General Ray Odierno, the US commander in Iraq, will seek to reduce the number of private contractors in the country by five percent each quarter, according to a directive obtained by the Christian Science Monitor. He is targeting 50 bases and smaller installations for reductions, where, so goes the thinking, Iraqis will begin to take over many of the responsibilities currently handled by private firms, such as laundry, driving, cooking, etc. There are currently about 150,000 contractors in Iraq, down from an all-time high of about 200,000. Some 39,000 of these are Americans, 70,000 are “third country nationals,” and 37,000 are Iraqis–though according to the Pentagon these numbers are better thought of as guestimates; precise numbers are unavailable.
With US troops getting ready to leave Iraq by summer 2010 (itself a target date that is almost sure to be revised), a reduction in contractors only makes sense. But it will not be as easy as one might think. From the Monitor:
But reducing the number of contractors may not be easy. The support these contractors provide are sometimes critical, and difficult to eliminate quickly. Further complicating the matter is the fact that many of them use American equipment, which may or may not be left behind.
As for hiring Iraqis, apart from the security concerns posed by employing them for certain jobs, many Iraqi workers need to be trained before they can take over jobs such as base maintenance overnight. A training effort is now being planned to ensure Iraqis have the skills to take over these jobs, says a senior official in Baghdad.
In the interim, US forces may be forced to fill the void left by some of these contractors on everything from training Iraqi security forces to driving trucks, which could take them away from their military duties, says a former senior commander.