Especially in light of Mr. Obama’s election, the full truth about Iraq will help sustain public support for his reasonable withdrawal plan based on actual security conditions in the country. As we get further into our sixth year of the war in Iraq and my fourth year on the ground here, the radical transformation of the security situation is almost overwhelming. We can now begin to look toward business opportunity in an emerging market that requires an estimated $180 billion of immediate capital investment in infrastructure reconstruction and development.
With the price of oil sustainable in the long-term at more than $50 a barrel (a conservative number reflecting the ongoing world economic crisis), the Iraqi government can self-generate a large portion of that required investment. As the Bush administration projected prewar, Iraq has the internal financial capability to rebuild, albeit with a start date three or four years later and hundreds of billions in U.S. tax dollars more than originally postulated.
Furthermore - in a significant development on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) inexplicably not publicized by the administration nor well-covered by the media - a few months ago the U.S. military removed from Iraq 550 metric tons of yellowcake uranium, a necessary precursor to the development of nuclear weapons. With this radioactive material, all that was needed to create up to 140 nuclear bombs was the centrifuge equipment Pakistan stole from Europe and then re-exported to Libya and Iran. Consequently, Iran is on the verge of finishing the enrichment process but Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi gave up the technology out of fear of having the same thing happen to him that happened to Iraq’s dictator. Were we just to leave this devastatingly dangerous WMD precursor to the tender mercies of Saddam Hussein?
In an interesting footnote to the removal of the yellowcake from Iraq, the U.S. Army used contractors to provide the transportation. This fact points to a revolutionary aspect of how the United States has successfully prosecuted this war - through extensive use of Department of Defense (DoD) contractors in high-risk areas to execute any and almost all work that does not require the special and very expensive training required for our limited number of all-volunteer-army soldiers.
Now, however, in what would be an extremely shortsighted concession to get a status of forces agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqi government, it looks as if the United States may be throwing these mission-critical personnel under the bus by removing DoD contractor immunities from arrest and prosecution by a chaotic Iraqi legal system that claims the right to hold individuals on “terrorism” charges for up to six months without habeas corpus. When CNN’s Arwa Damon came over to our compound in Baghdad’s Red Zone to discuss the immunities issue, I told her this could bring defeat to a U.S. mission so near to victory. As one of the top managers for KBR in Iraq stated, “If we lose our immunities then we will not be able to function.” This is coming from the company that practically feeds the entire US military in Iraq.
In the course of the ongoing SOFA negotiations, the Iraqi government and members of parliament are putting tremendous pressure on the United States to remove contractor immunities. The primary catalyst behind this is the mass killing of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater personnel in Nusoor Square a year ago. The individuals who pulled the triggers must be held accountable - and quickly - but the ultimate responsibility for the hyper-aggressive security measures by Blackwater resides not with the company itself (which was allowed considerable leeway in threat reaction under DoD’s then-current use-of-force rules) but its client of several years, the State Department. As can be seen by the near-mutiny over mandated duty in Iraq within the U.S. Foreign Service earlier this year, our diplomats evidently value their lives more than our country’s mission success and the continued risk to Americans actually in combat. This valuation got translated to their contractor bodyguards: Do whatever it takes to protect our personnel - and we all saw the tragic result in Nusoor Square.
Carter Andress, chief executive officer and principal owner of American-Iraqi Solutions Group, is author of “Contractor Combatants: Tales of an Imbedded Capitalist.