They work for such companies as Blackwater, Armor Group, EODT, Tetratech, KBR, and others. They operate in a combat zone months out of the year, putting their lives on the line to do jobs - both infrastructure-building and personal security - which either can not or are not being done by American troops or by Iraqis. They do blue collar work for a white collar wage, due to the risk involved - and for their trouble, they have been demonized by the Kossack left as being "mercenaries" who are worthy of hate because they "leave their wives and children behind to enter a war zone on their own violition [sic]."
Right off the bat on this trip, I was fortunate enough to have the chance to speak at length with several contractors. These men, most of whom have been working in Iraq off and on for a few years, seem to be of one mind with regard to the situation in country - that for four years now, they've been playing a game of "two steps forward, one step back." If they build something for the Iraqis, they then have to guard it against those same Iraqis blowing it up. They have friends and colleagues being wounded and killed regularly (including the four slaughtered and mutilated in Falluja in 2004, about whose deaths Kos himself said "I feel nothing...Screw them"), and see a good portion of their work as being in vain - mostly, as they see it, because of Iraqi mischief and incompetence.
"What I think we did," one Scottish contractor told me, "was give the Iraqis too much freedom and self governance too early." He went on to tell stories of massive governmental corruption, primarily in the form of kickbacks and the diversion of funds intended for infrastructure improvement. He also spoke of the fact that the Iraqis are so lax when it comes to security that they simply cannot be trusted with the task (as evidenced by the Parliament Building bombing of last week) - as well as the fact that "you can never turn your back on them, even if they're police or security guards.
"Money can turn anyone, and you just don't know who's gone bad until it's too late and they've stuck the knife in your back," he concluded, as he picked up the mangled remains of two machine guns which had until recently been carried by two of his companions - now deceased - and proceeded to board a plane back to Baghdad.
* * *
On the flight over from JFK to Kuwait City, I was accompanied by a former Navy SEAL and current contractor who was returning for his third stint in Iraq since joining the so-called "mercenary" corps. "I don't really know what we can do besides stick it out," he told me in response to the question of what the best course of action in Iraq would be. "If we leave, the entire region will go to ****. We don't have any choice but to keep working at it."
Far from being "war profiteers," or any other (ignorant) choice names the left tries to label them with, the vast majority of these contractors are former military folks who are still working in a combat zone to build state infrastructure, to serve the troops who are there, and to do many other jobs - not because they have to, but because they choose to. The free market which Kos and his ilk hate so much has created the opportunity for seasoned veterans to return to a combat zone and to receive better compensation than they did while in the military, in exchange for performing essential tasks which otherwise would not be done (or would not be done as well). The fact that these men, as Kos himself said it, "willingly enter a war zone, and do so because of the paycheck" is a testament not only to these men themselves, but to the free market which is effective enough to bring civilians and war veterans into areas as unsafe as Iraq to perform these jobs.
The contractors working here in Iraq are unsung heroes of the postwar effort in their own right, and it does them a grave disservice to let the only part of their story, and their opinions, that reaches the public be that which appears in screeds on Daily Kos and other lefty outlets.