Contractors Pressured to Perform in Iraq Without Valid Credentials

>The United States is rapidly drawing down troops in Iraq, and contractors are picking up the slack. DynCorp International, in particular, employs hundreds of ex-soldiers and cops to act as bodyguards and shepherds for State Department personnel across the country. The company also trains Iraqi police forces.

DynCorp is under intense pressure to perform without blemish. Private security companies and their employees are under scrutiny from both the U.S. and Iraqi governments more than ever before because of a string of incidents. Within the military, soldiers who quit to join these companies are derided as "mercs." The culture among DynCorp's ranks is similar to that of elite military units -- what happens out there stays out there. It's dangerous. Contractors get killed and injured with regularity. The pay is OK -- it starts at $90,000 a year -- and the working conditions -- living in tents, eating MREs -- are harsh. State Department officials have told me that the U.S. is generally pleased with DynCorp's performance so far ... but DynCorp is pretty much the only company that can do what State needs it to do.

But one member of an elite unit, a former Army Ranger who asked not to be identified, is concerned that DynCorp and the U.S. government are cutting corners unnecessarily.

The U.S. government is responsible for coordinating the vehicle credentialing and registration process with the Iraqis. Iraq's new bureaucracy changed its rules, delaying the renewal efforts. DynCorp International's team leaders are not supposed to leave their bases without valid credentials, period -- no matter the reason.

The decals are important -- they allow U.S. and Iraqi troops to see their vehicles as belonging to friendlies.

If the decals are out of date and the licenses are expired, DynCorp's folks can find themselves arrested, or worse. In December, when decals expired, the company continued to operate until a DynCorp team member was arrested, according to this employee. (Update: DynCorp. International says that this is incorrect and no employee was arrested.)

Vehicle decals and licenses issued by the Iraqi government again expired on August 1.

And yet, according to the ex-Ranger, team leaders on Monday were instructed by the State Department to continue sending out teams. "Hopefully, no one gets hurt due to this," the DynCorp employee said. The implicit message, according to the ex-Ranger, was that either the teams go out or they go home -- fired, back to the United States.

I was not able to reach State Department officials in Iraq, and e-mails sent to the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq were not returned. DynCorp, however, responded fairly quickly to my inquiry.

"At the direction of our customer, the U.S. Department of State, as of August 3, 2010, [Dyncorp] has suspended operations with vehicles that have expired stickers," a company spokesperson said in a statement:

The safety and security of all DynCorp International (DI) personnel who have bravely chosen to work in remote and often hostile environments is a top priority for the Company. In Iraq, our teams have volunteered to operate in a warzone performing dangerous but vital tasks in support of a number of U.S. government programs. We provide the safest possible environment for our personnel by working closely with the Iraqi government to obtain all licensing and certifications that are required to operate in Iraq.

DynCorp says that its licenses with the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, the Kurdish ministry of the interior, and various other organizations are "all in good standing":

"Both the U.S. government and the Iraqi [government] have assured us that the administrative process to receive an additional written extension is underway."

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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