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US to Spike Private Mercenaries in Iraq Amid Expanding War, Says Senior Official

Private contractors are highly controversial in Iraq, due to atrocities they have afflicted on civilian populations

Blackwater helicopter flies over Baghdad, Iraq in February 2005. (Photo: Marwan Naamani/AFP)

The U.S. government is preparing to hike the number of private mercenary forces in Iraq, as part of the expanding war in that country and neighboring Syria, an anonymous senior U.S. official told Reuters.

There are currently at least 1,800 private contractors in Iraq, and the official said it is not immediately clear how many additional mercenaries will be sent, according to Reuters.

Nonetheless, journalists Warren Strobel and Phil Stewart note, the plan to boost numbers "underscores Obama's growing commitment in Iraq. When U.S. troops and diplomats venture into war zones, contractors tend to follow, doing jobs once handled by the military itself."

The mercenary forces will add to the approximately 1,750 U.S. troops currently in Iraq, a number that is slated to climb past 3,000 after U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered more deployments last week.

The push to increase U.S. military service members and private contractors comes at a time when little information is being released to the public about the wars in Iraq and Syria, including data on civilian deaths.

Mercenaries are highly controversial in Iraq, due to the atrocities they have inflicted on civilian populations. In 2007, Blackwater guards under the employ of the U.S. State Department opened fire on Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square, killing 17 people and wounding 20. The victims included 9-year-old Ali Kinani, who was killed by a gunshot to the head.

In October, after years of legal battles, four of the Blackwater guards involved in the massacre were found guilty for some of the killings. However, high-ranking Blackwater and U.S. government officials never faced charges for the massacre and remain free.

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