Sanders says private security contractors should leave Iraq

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(Host) Senator Bernie Sanders wants to get the private security contractors out of Iraq.

VPR’s Jodi Breisler reports from Capitol Hill.

(Breisler) In the wake of Blackwater contractors killing Iraqi civilians, Sanders is aiming to get their guns out of Baghdad. 880 armed security guards currently protect State Department employees. Sanders says that’s unnecessary.

(Sanders) "I think if the U.S. Secret Service can protect the President of the United States as federal employees, sure as hell we can have federal employees called the U.S. Military protect the ambassador to Iraq and other high-ranking American officials in that country."

(Breisler) Sanders is working with House members to phase out their use entirely. Sanders says security contractors can make nearly $1,000 a day, while the average soldier makes $29,000 a year.

(Sanders) "And it is wrong in terms of the long term future of our military, both in terms of lowering morale — `Hey! Why do I get one-fifth what somebody else gets?’ – and also in attracting the best people in our armed forces."

(Breisler) The State Department has said it needs the private security detail to keep diplomats safe. It has not said what it would do if these contractors are taken away. Activist and Retired Army Captain Jon Soltz trained soldiers to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq. He says they could easily replace the contractors.

(Soltz) "This is an Army that has won wars through our history. This is our Army that went to Baghdad in three weeks. This is an Army that can find 800 people to take over for a private militia and give us the moral integrity in Iraq when we’re trying to disband private militias."

(Breisler) In addition to the Blackwater guards, the bill’s authors estimate there are 40,000 to 100,000 private security contractors in Iraq. The sponsors say that’s part of the problem. They don’t know how to oversee their activities when they don’t even know how many there are. The House introduced the legislation Wednesday. Sanders plans to bring the bill to the Senate next week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Jodi Breisler on Capitol Hill.

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