Winning: Really, Really Trusting Iraqis


October 31,2008: Yet another sign that peace has come to Iraq. The U.S. is beginning to replace foreign workers with Iraqis. The foreign contractors are cheaper than soldiers, mainly because most of them are unskilled labor from countries with very low pay scales. These civilians still make several times what they could back home, if they could find a job back home. Foreigners were hired because it was too dangerous to hire Iraqis. First, there was the loyalty problem, and then there was the risk of terrorists threatening, or killing, Iraqis working on American bases. There were some Iraqis working on those bases, mainly interpreters and some key specialists. And these Iraqis faced constant danger from terrorists. This policy greatly reduced the terrorist attacks inside American bases. There were only a few in over five years, all carried out by Iraqis who had access to the bases.

For the 150,000 foreign workers, there was some danger in Iraq, but for civilian workers, the chances of getting killed or wounded were a third of the rate for the troops, and the troops  had a casualty rate that was about a third of what it was for previous wars (like Vietnam). Moreover, in the last year, combat casualties among foreign contractors has come way down, to, like, hardly any.

Armies have always had civilians along, to perform support functions. The historical term is "camp followers." In times past, the ratio of civilians to soldiers was often much higher, like eight civilians for every one soldier. Only the most disciplined armies (like the ancient Romans at their peak), kept the ratio closer to one to one. That's the same ratio U.S. troops currently have, although it was more like 90 civilians for every hundred troops during the Surge Offensive last year.

When conscript armies became common in the 19th century, it was suddenly cheaper to replace many of those civilians with conscripts (who were paid a nominal wage.) Now that armies are going all-volunteer, it's reverting to the old days, where it was cheaper to have civilians perform a lot of support jobs.

In Iraq, most of the civilian contractors work in the well defended bases, and most of the contractor casualties are among those (about a quarter of the total) who do security or transportation jobs that take them outside the wire. But even those have a lower casualty rate than the combat troops. For the really dangerous work, the troops are used. But working in a combat zone is still dangerous, no matter what your work clothes look like.

One of the first major bases to replace foreign contractors will be al Asad air base. There are 5,000 foreign civilians at al Asad, and all are expected to be gone, and replace by Iraqis, within a year. It may be a few years before all (or nearly all) of the civilian contractors are replaced by Iraqis. This will save the United States a lot of money, as the Iraqis will be paid according to prevailing wages in Iraq. That's less than half what most of the foreign contractors are paid.




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