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Iraq: Private Contractors vs. Troops: How Many of Each?

Number of Private Contractors Has Always Paralelled That of U.S. Troops

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iraq contractors graph

Source: Congressional Research Service

As of March 2010, there were 95,461 DOD contractor personnel in Iraq compared to approximately 95,900 uniformed personnel in-country. Despite fluctuations throughout the last seven quarters, troop and contractor levels have remained relatively equal. Contractors made up approximately 50% of the Pentagon's workforce in Iraq as of the second quarter of 2010. Overall contractor and troop levels have decreased for five consecutive quarters at similar rates.

Contractors perform a wide range of services in Iraq. As of March 2010, 62,295 personnel (65% of contractors) performed base support functions such as maintaining the grounds, running dining facilities, and performing laundry services. Security was the second most common service provided, with 11,610 personnel (12% of contractors). Combined, these two categories accounted for almost 80% of Pentagon contractors in Iraq.

As the overall number of troops in Iraq has decreased, so to has the overall number of contractors. For example, since June 2008, as troop levels dropped by 57,400 (37%), total contractors fell by approximately 67,000 (41%). However, the number of contractors did not decrease uniformly across the contractor workforce. For example, during the same period, contractors providing base support and construction declined by approximately 31% (27,400 personnel) and 94% (34,000 personnel) respectively, whereas the number of contractors providing security actually increased by 26% (2,417 personnel).

These data indicate that as the services required by the Pentagon change during the course of operations, the percentages of contractors providing different types of services also change. In Between late 2008 and early 2010, the percentage of contractors performing base support has remained relatively constant, the percentage working in construction has decreased, and the percentage performing security has increased.

Of the approximately 95,500 contractors in Iraq as of March 2010, 24,719 were U.S. citizens, 17,193 were local nationals, and 53,549 were third-country nationals. Third-country nationals made up more than half of all contractor personnel.

According to a DOD official, contracting local nationals is an important element in counterinsurgency strategy. Employing local nationals injects money into the local economy, provides job training, and can give the U.S. a more sophisticated understanding of the local landscape. Nevertheless, from June 2008 to March 2010, the number of Iraqi contractors has dropped by more than 50,000 (75%) while the number of U.S. contractors has decreased by nearly 2,000 (7%). This can be only partially explained by the drop in the number of contractors performing construction (26,000); local nationals generally represent more than 80% of these workers.

The percentage of contractors who are local nationals remained steady at 26%-27% during 2009 but dropped to 18% in 2010. This percentage is substantially lower than the percentage of contractors who were local nationals in 2008 (42%-43%). By way of comparison, in Afghanistan local nationals have consistently comprised between 69%-86% of all contractors.

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