To a woman and man, both Democratic presidential candidates pledge to bring our troops home. It is a question of when, not if. That’s cautious good news for the families of 160,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq. But when are the estimated 130,000 military contractors leaving? That is nearly a one-to-one ratio of uniformed soldiers, sailors, pilots and Marines to non-uniformed mercenaries. Even if every private is pulled out of Iraq tomorrow, the U.S. would still have an army of rent-a-thugs on the ground.

Should I feel so much safer, secure in the knowledge that my country’s interests in Iraq are protected by a reported 10,000 apartheid-era South African “police” officers? Many of these mercenaries have been granted amnesty by that country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission for human rights abuses, including assassination. Paid thousands of U.S. taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars each month through contracts with the U.S. State Department and Pentagon, South African mercenaries wounded in Iraq have applied for worker’s comp in the U.S., according to the Chicago Tribune. Are they on the various timetables for withdrawal?

Where is notorious Blackwater — another contractor swilling at Uncle Sam’s trough — in the plans for a pullout? Do Iraqis and Americans have to wait for Blackwater’s $800 million in contracts to run out?

The privatization of the military deserves a place in the presidential debate circuit. Private, paid armies are a Dark Ages device. Up till now, we’ve known them only for crawling out of the dank basements of U.S. corporations to attack American workers. Labor history preserves the crimes of the Coal and Iron Police, Pinkerton, Burns Security and dozens of other guns-for-hire sent out to keep miners, garment workers and millions of other taxpayers under control.

Now, in the first decade of the 21st century, “downsizing” government has meant contracting out the military. Government “cost-containment” has translated into trigger-happy Blackwater mercenaries gunning down Iraqi civilians with only a congressional investigation serving as accountability.

Privatization, whether it is so-called security or peeling potatoes, axes public oversight and recognizes only the corporate bottom line as the control.

No-bid contracts are political-speak for corruption and kickbacks. But to date, there has been no debate on why there are private contracts at all. How does substituting Aramark for the Army private on KP duty improve the quality of chow or save taxpayers money? With the Iraq war and occupation costing the U.S. $155.5 billion just this year, enough to provide health care for almost all of our 47 million uninsured family members, friends and neighbors, shouldn’t the privatization of the war be on the agenda?

Denise Winebrenner Edwards ( is a member of the People’s Weekly World editorial board.



Denise Winebrenner Edwards
Denise Winebrenner Edwards

Denise Winebrenner Edwards is a long-time trade union and community activist. She lives in western Pennsylvania.