Contractor deaths in Iraq hit new levels
Private contractors facing greater peril in Iraq, but with less fanfare than troops.
Sunday, May 20, 2007

WASHINGTON — Casualties among private contractors in Iraq have soared to record levels, setting a pace that seems certain to turn 2007 into the bloodiest year yet for civilians who work alongside the U.S. military in the war zone, according to new government numbers.

At least 146 contract workers were killed in Iraq in the first three months of the year, by far the highest number for any quarter since the war began in March 2003, according to the Labor Department, which processes death and injury claims for those working as U.S. government contractors in Iraq.

That brings the number of contractors killed in Iraq to at least 917, along with more than 12,000 wounded in battle or injured on the job, according to government figures and dozens of interviews.

The numbers, which haven't been previously reported, reveal the extent to which contractors — Americans, Iraqis, and workers from more than three dozen other countries — are largely hidden casualties of the war, and now are facing increased risks alongside U.S. soldiers and Marines as President Bush's plan to increase troop levels in Baghdad takes hold.

As troops patrol more aggressively in and around Baghdad, both soldiers and the contractors who support them, often at small outposts, are at greater peril. The contractor deaths this year, for example, came closer to the number of U.S. military deaths during the same period — 244 — than during any other quarter since the war began, according to official figures.

"The insurgents are going after the softest targets, and the contractors are softer targets than the military," said Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration. "The U.S. is being more aggressive over there, and these contractor deaths go right along with it."