Private Security Contractors in Iraq: Background, Legal Status, and Other Issues

Publication Date: September 2008

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area:


Coverage: Iraq


The United States is relying heavily in Iraq on private firms to supply a wide variety of services, including security. From the information available in published sources, this apparently is the first time that the United States has depended on contractors to provide such extensive security in a hostile environment, although it has previously contracted for more limited security services in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and elsewhere. In Iraq, private companies are currently providing security services such as the protection of individuals, non-military transport convoys, buildings and other economic infrastructure, as well as the training of Iraqi police and military personnel. U.S. contracts for these services are issued by, or on behalf of, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the U.S.-led entity that is currently exercising sovereign authority in Iraq.

In a discussion paper issued recently, the CPA stated that it has direct contracts with eight companies for personal security, non-military site security, and non-military convoy security services that are "defensive in nature" and with a total value of $147 million, but it did not name the firms. Some eight firms have been identified in recent news accounts of firms providing protective services to or on behalf of the CPA, although these may not entirely overlap with the CPA list. These firms are Armor Group, Blackwater Security Consulting, Custer Battles, Erinys Iraq, Diligence LLC, Global Risk Strategies, Special Operations Consulting-Security Management Group, and the Steele Foundation. In addition, a State Department list cites another firm, ISI Iraq, as providing security to coalition facilities. Also, two companies have contracts to train the Iraqi security forces: DynCorp for the police and Vinnell Corporation for the military (although the work reportedly is being done by MPRI under a subcontract).

The use of armed contractors raises several concerns for many Members, including transparency and accountability. Transparency issues include the lack of public information on the terms of their contracts, including their costs and the standards governing their performance, as well as the background and training of those hired under contract. The apparent lack of a practical means to hold contractors accountable under U.S. law for abuses and other transgressions, and the possibility that they could be prosecuted by foreign courts, is also a source of concern.

Contractors working with the U.S. military (or with any of the coalition forces) in Iraq are non-combatants who have no combat immunity under international law if they engage in hostilities, and whose conduct may be attributable to the United States. Contractors are not likely to be subject to military law, but may be prosecuted under criminal statutes that apply extraterritorially or within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or by means of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA). However, there is little precedent for trying contractor employees for crimes committed overseas. At least until June 30, 2004, when the CPA is scheduled to transfer sovereignty to Iraq and dissolve, Iraqi courts do not have jurisdiction to prosecute contractors without the permission of the CPA.