Some of these private security companies have been hired by the Coalition Provisional Authority. Others have been hired by the Department of Defense and the CIA to assist in various activities, including prisoner interrogation, or tracking down suspected terrorists.
The latter is a mission that could involve serious combat. Often these activities are done outside the militarys chain of command pretty much all that is involved is signing a contract to provide services for a period of time or to obtain a specific result. It has the advantage of avoiding a lengthy decision-making process that involves lawyers and oversight. The situation had led to questions from Amnesty International and other human rights groups. Now, the scandal over the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib has left the Pentagon little room to avoid placing restrictions on how these companies operate, possibly ending their role in some of activities they currently carry out (probably the ones with a high likelihood of combat).
These restrictions, though, will not come without a price. Some of the functions carried out by private companies (like hunting down terrorists) will have to be filled by the military. This will also result in things being done in a somewhat less flexible manner. The private sector, while it lacked accountability, had a lot of flexibility that allowed for quicker reactions to a situation. Also, some companies may pull out in response to the restrictions. The military will be stretched thinner in Iraq. This will hamper their operations. Patrols will either have to be smaller, cover more ground, or both. The military is trying to head off such problems by keeping the deployment level at 135,000 troops through 2005. This will put a crimp in the ability to handle crises elsewhere, but in the short term, it will mitigate the effects of security firms pulling out of Iraq or the fact that more military personnel will be doing jobs that had been done by the contractors.
Over the long term, much of what will happen could be in the hands of Congress. Some lawmakers, particularly those left-of-center, do not like the contractors at all, referring to them as mercenaries. There have been some on the left who would like to see Congress enact restrictions on the ability of the Defense Department to hire contractors (possibly by requiring additional oversight) or even what services these contractors can offer much as was done with the Executive Outcomes company in South Africa. Any such legal restrictions on what roles the contractors could fulfill (for instance, prohibiting them from duty that could involve combat) would eventually hamper operations across the world, in virtually any hot spot where the United States has not yet sent troops (Colombia is one example of this), or where these companies are supporting American troops (like in Iraq). Harold C. Hutchison (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Department of Defense is looking into the possibility of placing controls on the intelligence gathering operations of contractors in Iraq. Officially, this is due to concerns about accountability, particularly in the wake of the prisoner abuse investigations. Two contractors from CACI International were recently implicated in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.