Via Avedon at The Sideshow, I found this lovely Washington Post article about private contractors (who for some reason we no longer call mercenaries) running amok in Iraq. The Post article states the official number of contractors in Iraq is approximately 127,000, but that's a lowball estimate since the CIA and intelligence arms of the various armed services are also employing private contractors and the exact number of how many they've hired is classified. Obviously, not all of them are engaged in combat-related activities but most of them are. Let me do a little math here - there are currently 162,000 US troops in Iraq, along with let's say 100,000 armed mercenaries who are not subject to the Geneva Conventions or the Uniform Code of Military Justice, plus heaven only knows how many insurgents and foreign fighters and armed Iraqi citizens (Saddam's policy was to have every household own an AK-47 assault rifle). Now, we add all that up and it comes out to Iraq being the most fucked-up place there has ever been on the planet Earth.
This being Iraq, of course it gets even worse when you take a closer look. This article from The Indypendent puts the number of contractors at 180,000, but also points out that:
...more than 1,000 contractors working for the U.S. occupation have been killed with another 13,000 wounded. Most are not American citizens, and these numbers are not counted in the official death toll at a time when Americans are increasingly disturbed by casualties.
In other words, Iraq is even bloodier than we thought. It's like the onion from hell: every layer of nightmare you peel back reveals an even more terrifying one underneath.
The Indypendent article speculates that the increasing reliance on mercenaries beyond parliamentary controls might embolden governments around the world to engage in even more reckless military gambits. Maybe. But historically, mercenaries have always been unreliable, so much so that Niccolo Machiavelli, the spiritual father of the realpolitik the right wingers all claim to follow, argued vigorously against their use. He was all too familiar with the various betrayals and usurpations that occurred in many Italian city states that relied on mercenary armies. Worse yet, it wasn't uncommon for mercenary armies who met in the field to stage a nearly bloodless battle of maneuvers - actual combat tended to make their contracts much less lucrative. Who knows? Maybe the private armies of the 21st century will come to the same conclusion and thus rein in the Bush adminstration's ambitions in Iraq.
I hate that we live in an age where we have to rely on the common sense of hired guns for any shred of hope.