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Undercounting Contractor Casualties in Iraq

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A new report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) provides some detail on the sacrifices made by private contractors who engaged in reconstruction or stabilization activities in Iraq between May 1, 2003, and August 31, 2010.

The total number includes 318 Americans (U.S. military, federal civilian employees, and U.S. civilian contractors), 111 third-country nationals, 271 Iraqis and 19 of unknown nationality who were working in support of the U.S. reconstruction or stabilization mission during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Of course, the actual total number, as opposed to the merely official one, is almost certainly higher, according to the report

For several reasons, an exact calculation is not possible. First, no agency managed a central database for reconstruction or stabilization casualties. Each U.S. government entity involved in Iraq's reconstruction--the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of State (DoS), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)--maintained its own employee casualty database. The Department of Labor (DoL) maintains a database of civilian contractors of all nationalities that were killed in Iraq who worked for or were contracted by U.S.-based companies or were insured through U.S. insurance carriers and notified DoL through the Defense Base Act.

Second, the databases we could access often did not contain enough detail to confirm whether a casualty was stabilization- or reconstruction-related. For example, there were 1,047 military casualties where the type of mission could not be determined.

Finally, there was no central source of information on third-country nationals or Iraqi civilians killed while working on or in support of U.S. projects.

What the report, "The Human Toll Of Reconstruction Or Stabilization Operations During Operation Iraqi Freedom" does say is that "Americans suffered 44 percent of the total reconstruction or stabilization-related deaths, including 264 from the Department of Defense (37 percent) and 54 U.S. federal civilian employees and U.S. civilian contractors (8 percent)." So, looking just at the very limited subset of contractors working stabilization and reconstruction-related activities, you get 57 deaths.

The report organized the types of projects undertaken into Iraq into three categories: infrastructure and governance, police training, and Iraqi armed forces training:

The majority of reconstruction-related casualties occurred in the infrastructure and governance category. At least 513 personnel (71 percent), died. The report does not say what portion of that were private contractors, although it notes the majority of deaths were Iraqi (240).

The police training category proved very dangerous as well, especially for contractors, accounting for 145 casualties (20 percent) overall. [...] Sixteen U.S. civilian contractors, twenty-two contracted Iraqis, four third-country nationals, and six others of unknown nationality (all interpreters) were killed while training the Iraqi police.

The report identified a total of at least 786 people reportedly wounded while performing reconstruction or stabilization-related missions in Iraq. This included 109 third-country nationals, almost all of which we can assume worked for various contractors, and 334 Iraqis, at least some of whom would have worked for a contractor. Like deaths, this is certainly an undercount.

The report stated:

As with the total death number, the actual number of wounded or injured is probably much higher than what we found." Later on the report also states, "Data on third-country nationals killed in Iraq while working under U.S.-funded contracts is incomplete because of the paucity of information on what third-country nationals may have been working on at time of death.

When total U.S. civilian deaths the report distinguishes between federal civilians working for the Defense and State Departments, USAID, and the United Nations and contractors. That latter number, from May 2003 to August 2010 totaled 44.

In terms of security contractor casualties the report found that:


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Twenty third-country nationals were killed supporting USACE reconstruction efforts during OIF, including16 killed while providing security for USACE reconstruction or stabilization projects. In addition, 10 third-country nationals were killed while transporting reconstruction materials on other reconstruction convoys that USACE tracked.

Open-source Information

From open-source articles, SIGIR identified 57 third-country nationals killed on reconstruction or stabilization missions that were not noted by any other agency.

Finally, although not well understood back in the USA, many Iraqi civilians worked for contractors.
Their deaths too were not well documented. The report concluded that:

SIGIR identified at least 271 Iraqis who were killed while working on reconstruction or stabilization projects. This included 95 reported by USAID, 91 reported by USACE, 40 other local national contractor deaths noted from previous SIGIR inspections, 30 identified from open-source articles, and 15 identified in official DoD records and significant activity logs.

[...]

In all likelihood, there were significantly more Iraqi civilian casualties killed while working on U.S.-supervised reconstruction or stabilization efforts than the available data revealed.