US Seeks to Boost Number of Blackwater-Style Mercenaries in Iraq

US Seeks to Boost Number of  Blackwater-Style Mercenaries in IraqUS Seeks to Boost Number of  Blackwater-Style Mercenaries in Iraq

The US government is preparing to boost the number of private contractors in Iraq as part of President Barack Obama’s growing effort to beat back IS militants threatening the Baghdad government, a senior US official said.

How many contractors will deploy to Iraq - beyond the roughly 1,800 now working there for the US State Department - will depend in part, the official said, on how widely dispersed US troops advising Iraqi security forces are, and how far they are from US diplomatic facilities.

“It is certain that there will have to be some number of contractors brought in for additional support,” Reuters quoted the senior US official as saying, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Last month, Obama authorized roughly doubling the number of troops, who will be in non-combat roles, to 3,100, but is keen not to let the troop commitment grow too much.

There are now about 1,750 US troops in Iraq, and US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week ordered deployment of an additional 1,300.

After declining since late 2011, State Department contractor numbers in Iraq have risen slightly, by less than 5 percent, since June, a State Department spokesman said.

  Controversial Presence

The presence of contractors in Iraq, particularly private security firms, has been controversial since a series of violent incidents during the US occupation, culminating in the September 2007 killing of 14 unarmed Iraqis by guards from Blackwater security firm.

Three former guards were convicted in October of voluntary manslaughter charges and a fourth of murder in the case, which prompted reforms in US government oversight of contractors.

The company later changed its name to Xe Services in 2009 and once again to Academi in 2011.

US troops in Iraq are not using private contractors to provide them additional security, a second US official said.

Virtually all the US government contractors now in Iraq work for the State Department.

The number of Pentagon contractors, which in late 2008 reached over 163,000 - rivaling the number of US troops on the ground at the time - has fallen sharply with reduced US military presence.

Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright said there is only a handful left now and they report to the State Department. In late 2013, the Pentagon still had 6,000 contractors in Iraq, mostly supporting US weapon sales to the Baghdad government, Wright said.

But there are signs that trend will be reversed. The Pentagon in August issued a public notice that it was seeking help from private firms to advise Iraq’s Ministry of Defense and its Counter Terrorism Service.

The notice appeared intended as preparation, in case military commanders need to surge contractors into Iraq. The announcement did not specify the size or cost of the proposed effort.