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OPINION: U.S. Contracts in Iraq at What Cost?

How much money has the U.S. government poured into private companies' coffers to support military operations in Iraq? According to a new study by Congressional Budget Office (CBO), from 2003 to 2007, the U.S. spent $85 billion on private contractors in Iraq. Expenses in 2008 are expected to exceed $15 billion. Based on that projection, more than a $100 billion will have gone to private companies and their subsidiaries over a five-year period.

With so much taxpayer money on the online, it bears asking: What services does the government get for this money? And are they worth the price we taxpayers pay?

The U.S. government has reached an all-time high in using private contractors to support military operations in Iraq. The CBO says the U.S. has more than roughly two-and-a-half times the amount of private contractors in the Iraqi theater than in any prior conflict. In fact, the number of private contractors outnumbers U.S. troops in Iraq. Private contractors are estimated to total 190,000 in the country, while U.S. troops there number roughly 160,000.

Private contracts provide a wide variety of services. They include security details for the military and State Department, logistics support, food, construction and petroleum products. Because of private contractors, the U.S. military can deploy more troops to Iraq and other military bases around the world, instead of instituting a draft.

The freedom of flexibility with troops comes at a high price. The Center for Public Integrity studied the issuance of contracts from 2004 to 2006 and found some disturbing information. The amount of money going to unidentified foreign subcontracts has surged with little or no ability for government watchdog groups to determine who has been given money.

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