Clinton Would Ban Private Military Contractors

Hillary Clinton, in a speech marking the five-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, said that if elected, she would pull armed private contractors from that country as well as U.S. troops.

Speaking at George Washington University in Washington, Clinton used the issue to try to draw distinctions between herself and her chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama, and John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

“Senator Obama and I have a substantive disagreement here. He won’t rule out using armed private military contactors in Iraq to do jobs that historically have been done by the U.S. military or government personnel,” Clinton said.

The Pentagon has about 137,000 contract workers in Iraq, of which about 7,300 work in security. One contractor in particular, Blackwater Worldwide of Moyock, North Carolina, has come under scrutiny by Congress and the courts after a series of violent incidents involving its employees, including a 2007 shooting that killed at least 17 Iraqis.

Obama, in a speech in Monaca, Pennsylvania, said Clinton was a “latecomer” to cracking down on contractors.

“I actually introduced legislation in the Senate before Senator Clinton even mentioned this that said we have to crack down on private contractors like Blackwater, because I don’t believe they should be able to run amok and put our own troops in danger and get paid three or four times or ten times what our soldiers are getting paid,” Obama said.

He repeated that he was opposed to the war from the beginning.

Careful Getting Out

“I opposed this war in 2002, I opposed it in 2003, 4, 5, 6 and 7,” Obama said. “I have been consistently saying that we have to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in.”

Clinton also said she would end no-bid contracts, citing those won by Houston-based Halliburton Co., where Vice President Dick Cheney worked as chief executive officer before becoming vice president to George W. Bush.

“It’s also a time we put an end, once and for all, to the no-bid contracts that squander taxpayer money while lining the pockets of the president’s cronies,” Clinton said. “Companies like Halliburton are enjoying record profits thanks to a 700 percent increase in taxpayer funds awarded to them.”

Such no-bid contracts make up a larger proportion of federal spending than lawmakers’ pet spending projects known as earmarks, Clinton said.

No-Bid Contracts

“We’ve had a lot of talk in this town and elsewhere about earmarks, and I am one of those who believe we need more transparency and disclosure in the earmark process. But no-bid contracts are ten times more costly than earmarks,” Clinton said.

Clinton, a senator from New York, used the speech to present a three-point plan to end the war in Iraq. She would begin to remove one or two troop brigades from Iraq starting in 2009. She also would extend the amount of time soldiers are given between overseas deployments.

“Withdrawal is not risk-free, but the risks of staying in Iraq are certain,” Clinton said. “A well-planned withdrawal is the one and only path to a political solution.”

To boost political stability in Iraq, she would ensure that the nation’s oil profits are spent on critical reconstruction projects such as electricity and clean water. She said she would work with Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria, to craft a strategy for stabilizing the country.

“This war has made the terrorists stronger,” Clinton said. “We must persuade neighboring nations not to get involved in an Iraqi civil war.”

Flying Into Bosnia

Clinton, 60, has been touting her foreign policy experience on the Senate Armed Services Committee and as former first lady to draw contrasts between herself and Illinois Senator Obama, 46. During her speech, she recalled flying into Bosnia under sniper fire to visit U.S. troops when her husband Bill Clinton was president.

She blamed Bush for making decisions in Iraq that were “rooted in politics and ideology.”

“The mistakes of Iraq are not the responsibility of our men in uniform, but of our commander in chief,” Clinton said.

Cheney arrived in Baghdad today on an unannounced trip for meetings with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as well as Army General David Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan Crocker and other leaders. Petraeus and Crocker are scheduled to brief Congress next month on progress in Iraq since the deployment of 30,000 extra U.S. soldiers a year ago.

First Stop

Iraq is the first stop for Cheney on a 10-day trip to the Middle East for discussions with Arab allies about oil production and prices, Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Arizona Senator McCain arrived in Iraq yesterday as part of a congressional delegation. He supported Bush’s troop increase and says the U.S. may need a continuing presence in Iraq for years.

The U.S. is pulling five of 20 combat brigades out of Iraq, totaling about 20,000 soldiers. Petraeus has said he wants to take time to assess security after the withdrawal ends in mid- July.

At least 3,978 U.S. personnel have died in Iraq and 29,395 more have been wounded, according to Department of Defense figures.

Lorraine Woellert