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Iraq contractor costs scrutinized

From the Associated Press

Military contracts in Iraq cost taxpayers at least $85 billion since the 2003 invasion through last year, and the amount is estimated to hit $100 billion by the end of 2008, the Congressional Budget Office reported Tuesday.

About 20% of funding for operations in Iraq has gone to contractors, the report said. The United States has relied more heavily on contractors in Iraq than in any other war to provide food service, guard diplomats and perform other tasks.

At least 190,000 contractors are in Iraq and neighboring countries, a ratio of about one contractor per U.S. service member, the report says.

In Iraq, contractors have performed duties that otherwise would have required the deployment of more troops.

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The report comes on the heels of increased scrutiny of contractors in the last year, some of whom have been investigated in connection with shooting deaths of Iraqis and accidental electrocutions of U.S. troops.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, which requested the CBO review, said the Bush administration’s reliance on military contractors has set a dangerous precedent.

The use of contractors “restricts accountability and oversight; opens the door to corruption and abuse; and, in some instances, may significantly increase the cost to American taxpayers,” Conrad said in a statement.

The death of a Green Beret from Pittsburgh who was stationed in Iraq, Sgt. Ryan Maseth, who was electrocuted in January while showering, prompted a House committee oversight hearing last month on whether contractor KBR has properly handled the electrical work at bases it maintains.

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The military has also said that five other deaths were caused by improperly installed or maintained electrical devices, according to a congressional report.

At least 1,200 contractors have died -- including four Blackwater employees who were ambushed in 2004 by insurgents in Fallouja. A mob mutilated their remains and hung two of the charred corpses from a bridge over the Euphrates River.


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