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IRAQ: Workers Pay with Their Lives in War Zone

In just two years, 244 civilian contractors have died violently in Iraq. Money attracted most of them to the most dangerous place in the world - and there they died, in sniper attacks, missile and rocket attacks, helicopter crashes, suicide bombings and decapitations that followed kidnappings.


by Brendan NicholsonThe Age
June 25th, 2005

In just two years, 244 civilian contractors have died violently in Iraq.

Money attracted most of them to the most dangerous place in the world - and there they died, in sniper attacks, missile and rocket attacks, helicopter crashes, suicide bombings and decapitations that followed kidnappings.

Unfazed by this brutal lottery, civilians keep coming into what amounts to a vast and uncertain battlefield.

There are an estimated 40,000 contractors working in Iraq, between 10,000 and 20,000 of them involved in security.

They work in logistical support of the US Defence Department, the local oil industry, driving trucks, rebuilding electricity and sewerage systems, building and running schools and universities and helping run prisons and police stations. Some even carry out interrogations for the security forces.

A former soldier involved in security work is likely to get $US1000 ($A1288) a week and those working for major firms are earning much more. An American truck driver who earned $US25,000 or $US30,000 a year at home can expect to earn $US90,000 in Iraq.

To give an idea of the scale of the opportunities in Iraq, the controversial US corporation Halliburton has been given contracts worth nearly $13 billion.

At present there are 79 Australians registered with the embassy in Baghdad, but the Foreign Affairs Department says the true number is likely to be three times that because many contractors fly in and out of the country without letting the embassy know. They are likely to be paid $1000 to $2000 a day, depending on where they are working and what they are doing.

There is wealth to be made in Iraq and, with strong encouragement from their Government, Australian companies have won contracts worth more than $1 billion.

But the official Australian Government travel warning issued by the Foreign Affairs leaves no doubt about the risks involved. It says Australians should not travel to Iraq and Australians in Iraq who are concerned for their security should leave.

"The security environment in Iraq remains extremely dangerous, as underscored by continuing terrorist activity, kidnapping and other attacks against Iraqi and foreign civilians," the department warns.

"Kidnappings for ransom and hostage-taking for political gain are common in Iraq and may be fatal.

"We continue to receive reports that terrorists and anti-government forces are planning attacks against a range of targets, including places frequented by foreigners such as hotels, restaurants and international transport."





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