By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 8, 2007
An Illinois congresswoman yesterday proposed the rapid withdrawal of hundreds of armed security contractors who provide protective services for the State Department in Iraq.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D) introduced legislation that she said would call for the phasing out of some 800 armed contractors who work for Blackwater, DynCorp International and Triple Canopy in Iraq over the next six months. She proposes that the contractors be replaced with military or diplomatic security personnel or military police.
"There's been major examples of how these companies adversely affect the mission," Schakowsky said. "They jeopardize our uniformed men and women, and they jeopardize the morale of our troops. They strain our diplomatic relations. They're unaccountable."
The contractors have come under increased scrutiny on a variety of issues, including their billing records and their use of force, leading many congressional leaders to push for more oversight and accountability.
Blackwater has been in the spotlight the most. On Sept. 16, armed contractors working for Blackwater allegedly shot and killed 17 people in Baghdad. The incident sparked congressional hearings and federal investigations into how security contractors operate in Iraq and who oversees them.
Blackwater, DynCorp and Triple Canopy won the contract with the State Department in June 2005 to provide protective services. The five-year contract is worth up to $1.2 billion for each contractor. In addition to withdrawing those three firms, Schakowsky's bill also calls for pulling all private armed security contractors -- estimated to number 48,000 -- out of Iraq or other war zones by 2009.
"We understand it is going to take time to train and deploy what is a large number of people," Schakowsky said. "We wanted to put a reasonable time on it. But we want to make it very clear the time is now to make plans to make it the end of the use of these contractors."
Critics say it is going to be difficult to find military personnel to replace the contractors. The limited number of military personnel in Iraq led to the reliance on private contractors not only for security but also for such services as doing laundry, feeding troops and setting up housing.
"There's so much stuff security contractors are doing, I just don't see all of them being replaced," said Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, which represents security contractors.