Contractors’ Deaths Add to Iraq Toll

By: Seth Porges

Updated at 1:15 p.m. ET

Although the total number of American troops killed in Iraq is 397, as of Nov. 13, the overall American death count is higher. One group whose deaths often go unreported are independent contractors from American corporations working in the war-torn country. These fatalities, often from mines and ambushes, are rarely reported by newspapers and are not listed in the Pentagon’s official death toll.

“I know contractors are not reported there,” Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Joe Yoswa said about the official Operation Iraqi Freedom death toll. “I can tell you the contractors’ names are not listed in the roll-up.”

The Washington Postreported Friday that nine civilians working for the government have died in attacks in Iraq since the war began. Another 29 have been wounded and dozens have had close calls.

As of Thursday afternoon, three employees of Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Houston-based Halliburton and the largest military contractor in Iraq, have been killed in Iraq since the war began. The contractor deaths were the results of a vehicle accident, an anti-tank mine, and a gunshot wound.

“On 10 July 2003 a KBR employee died as a result of injuries sustained in a single-vehicle accident near the city of Basra in southern Iraq,” Halliburton spokesperson Patrice Mingo told E&P Online via e-mail.

The second KBR death occurred on Aug. 5 “as a result of injuries sustained when his truck hit an anti-tank mine,” Mingo said. The third KBR employee died on Sept. 3 after being “fatally shot in Baghdad while driving a vehicle that was escorted by military personnel.”

“KBR’s primary concern is for the safety and security of all personnel, especially those working in such challenging environments and conditions,” Mingo said. “We are proud of our many employees who are currently working in the Middle East in support of the U.S. military. These men and women are working hard in the midst of a difficult situation, and are doing a great job.”

As a result of cutbacks in personnel, the military has increasingly relied on contractors to perform a wide range of tasks. The size of the United States standing army has shrunk from 2.1 million in 1990 to 1.4 million in 2003, according to an Oct. 30 Associated Press report. In an effort to free up more troops for combat, the military hires independent contractors for just about every other imaginable task.

The total number of contractors killed in Iraq is not known, nor is the number of contractors currently working in Iraq, according to the Oct. 30 AP article. “Estimates range from under 10,000 to more than 20,000 — which could make private contractors the largest U.S. coalition partner ahead of Britain’s 11,000 troops,” the AP reported.

On Friday morning, The Associated Press reported that suspected insurgents raked a convoy with automatic gunfire, killing a U.S. civilian contractor and wounding another American.

The attack happened Nov. 13 west of Balad, 45 miles north of Baghdad, said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, spokeswoman of the 4th Infantry Division.

The victims were traveling to the north of Iraq in a convoy when the gunmen, who were believed to be loyalists of ousted leader Saddam Hussein, approached from the rear and opened fire at them, Aberle said.

After the attack, a U.S. military rapid response team arrived, secured the area and brought the wounded to a medical facility for treatment. The wounded American was in stable condition, Aberle said.

She did not identify the dead American or his employer pending notification of relatives.

Separately, the U.S. military also is looking into the reported disappearance of an American contractor, Kirk von Ackermann, 37, of Moss Beach, Calif., who went missing last month while driving between Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit and Kirkuk.

Von Ackermann’s car was found abandoned on Oct. 9 on a roadside with his satellite phone, a laptop computer and a briefcase containing around $40,000, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Von Ackerman is employed by Ultra Services, an Istanbul-based company that provides supplies and logistics assistance for U.S. Army bases in Iraq.

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