Jan. 28, 2007, 12:41AM
Contractor deaths in Iraq nearing 800
Toll has surged in past months, but civilians still line up for the jobs

Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle

Laboring in a war with no discernible front line, more than 770 civilian 
contractors have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion began in March 

Statistics kept by the Labor Department indicate fatalities among 
civilian contractors working for American firms escalated rapidly late 
last year, with at least 301 dying in Iraq in 2006 — including 124 in 
the final three months.

U.S. military deaths totaled 818 during the year, the Defense Department 
has reported.

Despite the danger, job seekers continue to flood contractors' offices 
with résumés.

Some 165,000 prospective employees contacted Houston-based Halliburton 
Co.'s KBR last year about job opportunities in Iraq, Kuwait and 
Afghanistan, company officials said. KBR now has half a million résumés 
on file.

And the recent troop "surge" announced by President Bush has prompted 
KBR to increase its hiring, company Chief Executive Officer Bill Utt 
said Friday.

Among the job seekers crowding into a recent KBR orientation program at 
Greenspoint Mall, many of the job seekers crowding into a recent KBR 
orientation program at Greenspoint Mall were fatalistic about the risks.

"When it comes your time, it comes your time," said Robert Hulion, 59, 
of Crestview, Fla., before being deployed to Iraq to work as a 
fumigation specialist.

"I've been through Vietnam, and I've been to New York City. But what I 
call dangerous is Mardi Gras in New Orleans," Hulion joked.

Hulion has joined what the Pentagon estimates to be 100,000 civilians 
working for U.S.-based contractors in Iraq.

Supplementing the 130,000 American troops serving in the country, these 
civilians provide a wide variety of functions, including serving up chow 
and interrogating prisoners.

The 100,000 figure is an estimate because, nearly four years into the 
war, the Pentagon is just now conducting its first survey to determine 
how many civilian contractors are working in Iraq.

And Pentagon officials, citing military regulations, don't track 
contractor deaths.

Contract worth billions
Halliburton's KBR is the largest military contractor operating in Iraq, 
with more than 50,000 employees and subcontractors working there, as 
well as in Kuwait and Afghanistan.

Working under a multibillion-dollar contract with the Army, KBR crews 
drive trucks, wash clothes, deliver mail and provide a host of other 
support services for U.S. troops.

KBR's workers are a critical component of the Pentagon's privatization 
strategy, enabling the military to reduce the number of troops needed in 
the country by turning over noncombat functions to civilians.

The idea behind the privatization plan was to keep these noncombatants 
away from the fighting. But that has proved impossible in 
violence-riddled Iraq.

"The whole place is a front line," said Peter Singer, a senior fellow at 
the Washington-based Brookings Institution and author of Corporate 
Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry.

The contractor death toll rose last week when five Americans working for 
Blackwater USA were killed in Baghdad after their helicopter was shot 
down by insurgents. The contractors were rushing to help a U.S. Embassy 
convoy that had come under attack.

Civilian contractors killed in Iraq are often eligible — and many have 
received — the defense secretary's Medal for the Defense of Freedom, the 
so-called Purple Heart for civilians working on behalf of the military.

But their names are left off the Pentagon's Iraq casualty rolls.

If they were counted, the U.S. military's official casualty figures — 
3,063 as of Friday — would be 25 percent higher.

"Since Day 1, the administration has been very, very comfortable 
artificially deflating the human cost of our effort in Iraq," said 
Steven Schooner, co-director of the government-procurement law program 
at George Washington University Law School.

The Pentagon's failure to report contractor deaths angers some family 
members whose loved ones died working in Iraq.

"There are so many of them who have been killed, and they're not 
acknowledged," noted Hollie Hulett, whose husband, Stephen, a truck 
driver, was killed when his convoy was ambushed in April 2004. "They're 
swept under the rug."

Tracking casualties
The 770 tally — representing fatalities (including deaths by natural 
causes) between March 2003 and Dec. 31, 2006 — was tabulated by the 
Labor Department's Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation.

Last year's contractor fatalities represent 39 percent of the deaths 
reported by the Labor Department.

Besides those killed, another 7,761 civilian contractors had been 
injured in Iraq as of Dec. 31, the Labor Department said.

The Labor Department has these numbers because it tracks workers' 
compensation claims by injured workers or families of slain contractors 
under the federal Defense Base Act.

"Using employee time lost is a kind of a weird way to track casualties," 
Singer noted. "But it's part of the bizarre nature of this industry and 
the way it's been used in Iraq."

Still, the Labor Department figures don't tell the full story.

KBR, for instance, says 95 of its employees and subcontractors have been 
killed in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. Company officials declined to 
say exactly how many have died in Iraq alone.

The Labor Department provided the Houston Chronicle a breakdown of 
fatalities and injuries by contractor, through the end of December, but 
this list does not identify any deaths as KBR fatalities.

The database has many — often intentional — holes. The Labor Department, 
for instance, won't specify an employer if that contractor has fewer 
than seven cases in a particular category, a department spokesman said 
via e-mail.

Contractor injuries
Aside from the deaths, KBR officials say 430 workers and subcontractors 
had been injured because of hostile action in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan.

In terms of fatalities, however, KBR reported a decline in 2006. The 
company and its subcontractors suffered 17 fatalities last year, 
compared with 41 in 2004.

KBR officials would not discuss why their fatalities dropped last year.

"To avoid jeopardizing the safety and security of our employees and 
subcontractors, we will not detail the specific measures that are 
currently in place," company spokeswoman Melissa Norcross said.

The Labor Department records indicate L-3 Services Group, which provides 
translators and interpreters for the Army, had suffered the worst 
casualties in Iraq: 241 workers killed by the end of 2006, including 32 
in the last three months of the year.

The actual number of L-3 Services Group fatalities in Iraq, noted Rick 
Kiernan, the company's vice president for strategic communications, was 
255 as of Dec. 31 and 261 as of Friday.

Many of those victims were Iraqis, known to be working with Americans 
and then assassinated while off duty, Kiernan said.

The spate of contractor deaths suffered by L-3 Services during the 
fourth quarter, Kiernan said, could reflect the timing of the Muslim 
holy month of Ramadan, when many of the workers returned home for the 

The U.S. arm of Britain's ArmorGroup International, a private security 
firm, has seen 22 workers die in Iraq, the Labor records show.

Company spokesman Patrick Toyne Sewell declined to confirm those 
figures, noting: "'If you focus on the numbers, you start to consider 
people as numbers, rather than as much-missed friends or colleagues."

"We aim to prevent any (casualties) at all," Toyne Sewell said.

In their discussions about Iraq, military experts had been assuming 
contractor casualties would account for, perhaps, 10 percent of the 
total U.S.-related fatalities.

If the Labor Department figures are correct, contractors accounted for 
27 percent of all U.S.-related fatalities last year.

"The question is: Is this better data, or is the rate going up at a 
frightening pace?" Schooner said.

Of the 770 victims, only 144 have been certified as having died as a 
direct result of enemy action, a Labor Department spokesman said.

Why that figure would be so low — fewer than one in five fatalities — is 
not completely clear. But L-3 Services' Kiernan noted that the 
assassinations of off-duty workers, for example, would not be counted as 
combat deaths.

How many of these civilian-contractor casualties were American citizens 
is unknown. Labor officials say they cannot provide a breakdown by 

Splitting the contract
Despite the new hiring, KBR's activity in Iraq has declined since a peak 
set back in 2004, although the company still performed $4.8 billion 
worth of work last year, including $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter, 
the company's figures show.

The Army has decided to split up KBR's huge logistics contract among 
three companies. But KBR still has plenty of work to do.

In fact, KBR has 1,000 positions to fill in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The applicants funnel through an old Montgomery Ward store at 
Greenspoint. KBR processes as many as 900 job applicants a week.

In 22 training sessions, instructors cover everything from the dangerous 
spiders workers might encounter in the Middle East to how to behave if 

For Trish Anderson of West Palm Beach, Fla., a one-year tour with KBR 
represents a way to receive some financial freedom.

"I want to buy a few more pieces of property, and I have a daughter 
who's ... going to college," Anderson said.

Like many applicants, Anderson also sees a bigger mission — "to be able 
to give the gift of freedom."

This 38-year-old former Marine Corps staffer and a veteran of both the 
Persian Gulf War and the Iraq war says she is not going into this blindly.

"I know what the dangers and the stress and the risks are," she said. 
"Honestly, I don't think it's getting worse. I think it's getting better."

Still, all the uncertainty about the actual level of danger and 
fatalities appalls critics.

"Should we have to estimate this matter, or should we know it as fact?" 
asked T. Scott Allen, a Houston attorney representing the Hulett family 
as well as other families of slain KBR workers and injured employees in 
a lawsuit against the company.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., has introduced legislation that would force 
the administration to report to Congress about civilian casualties.

"I think people have lost patience with this war without calculating in 
the other 770 people who have died.

"Imagine," Schakowsky said, what the public reaction would be if the 
reported casualty figures "were now closer to 4,000 people who have died?"



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Brooks Isoldi, editor

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