War profiteers reap big profits

The US government paid out 85 billion dollars in four years to contractors providing services to various government agencies in support of the Iraq war and reconstruction, a survey showed Tuesday.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report said the administration of US President George W. Bush awarded 85-billion-dollars in contracts between 2003 and 2007, or over 21 billion dollars annually.

CBO researchers found that the funds paid out to government contractors, including security, transportation and engineering contractors and administration specialists among others, accounted for almost 20 percent of the total funding for Washington’s operations in Iraq during this period.

The US-led invasion of Iraq occurred in March 2003, as US troops poured into the country to topple the government of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Tens of thousands of American troops remain based in Iraq, although fighting between US soldiers, Iraqi insurgents and other groups appears to have eased this year.

The contracts covered services provided in the "Iraq theater," which includes neighboring countries to Iraq such as Saudi Arabia and other nearby states such as Qatar, where the US military maintains support operations.

A hefty chunk of US government spending was allotted to private security contractors who received between six and 10 billion dollars of the contracting pie between 2003 and 2007 for their services.

Considerable numbers of contractors remain employed in support of US operations across Iraq.

"Although personnel counts are rough approximations, CBO estimates that as of early 2008 at least 190,000 contractor personnel, including subcontractors, were working on US-funded contracts in the Iraq theater," the report said.

Supporters say private contractors provide a more cost-effective service for the government and US taxpayers, but the use of private contractors in Iraq has sparked controversy.

Large contracts awarded to the Halliburton energy services firm, which was once led by Vice President Dick Cheney, and KBR – a Halliburtion subsidiary and the biggest US military contractor in Iraq – have been criticized and come under scrutiny from Democrats.

Congress has also been investigating the role of private security contractors who have been involved in the shooting deaths of Iraqi civilians, including employees of the private US security firm Blackwater USA.

The CBO study was completed at the request of US lawmakers.