Conflict Escalating in Iraq

Conflict Escalating in Iraq

Iraninan-backed militias are wielding a new weapon in their war against Iraq’s fledgling democratic government. Low-flying drones, which are almost impossible to counteract, have replaced rocket-propelled grenades as their weapon of choice.

American officials analyzed the remains of a drone that struck a CIA hanger. It damaged the facility but injured no one. Preliminary analysis indicates that the Iranians made the sophisticated device, which officials were unable to track once it got within ten miles of the target. “The damage wasn’t huge but the coalition was very upset. They told our commanders that it was a major escalation,” reported one Iraqi soldier. The Biden administration considered and rejected a military response.

Iraqi officials have privately expressed concern about what they see as a growing threat to regional security.

Persian Gulf Crisis

Saddam Hussein is long gone, and Al Qaeda is on the run. But a new enemy, or rather an old one, may now be an even greater threat.

U.S. President Barack Obama took a very conciliatory approach toward Iran. He valued regional stability above anything else. His successor reversed course. U.S. President Donald Trump was willing to risk a regional conflict if that is what it took to protect American interests. We can debate the wisdom and/or folly of these approaches, but what is done is done.

Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal and imposed strict sanctions against Iran. In response, the Iranians also took a hard line approach. Among other things, Iran designated the U.S. Central Command as a terrorist organization.

In 2019, several Western merchant ships in the Persian Gulf were damaged by unknown assailants. The United States blamed Iran, and Iran denied responsibility. Simmering tensions got even hotter when, in the summer of 2019, Iran shot down an American surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz.

Things got worse as the theater of operations shifted to Iraq. Iranian-affiliated militants in Iraq attacked an American base and killed a private contractor. Retaliatory U.S. airstrikes killed over two dozen insurrectionists. In an escalating series of strikes and reprisals, Iran sponsored an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and an American drone strike killed IRGC Commander Qasem Soleimani.

In January 2020, the Iranians fired ballistic missiles at several U.S. bases in Iraq. The attacks injured several dozen people. Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit, and tensions began slightly de-escalating. So, maybe something good came out of COVID-19 after all.

Now that the pandemic is ending, this informal cease fire will probably end as well. Iraqis are understandably worried that if the U.S. and Iran go to war, their country would be caught in the crossfire.

Current U.S. President Joe Biden has shown signs of mimicking his former boss’ conciliatory posture, but no one really knows what will happen. The two sides are continuing their sabre-rattling. On a related note, no one outside Tehran really knows if Iran has nuclear weapons.

Contractor Injuries

Combat-related injuries are only a small part of the injury dangers which overseas contractors face. Training accidents and unintentional injuries, like falls, are two good examples.

Many combat trainees are a bit like student drivers who are operating tanks or warplanes. A student driver can do a lot of damage in a motor vehicle. Imagine what a student driver can do while operating military hardware.

Serious training accidents are even worse in the remote stretches of desert which dominate Iraq. The nearest medical help might be many miles away, and this assistance might be little more than an aid station. Generally, these victims must be medevaced to larger facilities in other parts of the region. This evacuation often raises the medical bills in these situations to dizzying heights.

Anyone can fall, especially when they must walk in the dark while carrying a heavy load. In addition to broken bones, these victims often sustain head injuries. Doctors often overlook the initial symptoms, such as confusion. As a result, their injuries get progressively worse. By the time these victims receive proper medical attention, only a combination of surgery and physical therapy can adequately address their head injuries.

Hearing loss and repetitive stress disorders are the most common deployment-related occupational diseases. These conditions occur slowly over time. Therefore, many victims are seriously ill and do not know it.

Government rules require employers to furnish hearing protective devices, such as earplugs, if workplace sounds routinely eclipse 85 decibels. That noise level is a little louder than a hairdryer at Max Power. These rules do not technically apply to overseas contractors. Therefore, many contractors are at risk for hearing loss, yet their ears are unprotected.

If doctors intervene early enough, hearing loss is relatively easy to treat. However, as mentioned, most of these victims do not seek prompt treatment.

Most contractors work in supply and logistics areas. These people spend a lot of time bending, kneeling, or stooping. The body is not designed to take so much repetitive stress in a certain area. The joints can only take so much.

Injury Compensation Available

Defense Base Act benefits pay all reasonably necessary medical expenses related to these and other injuries. The DBA also replaces lost wages. It usually pays two-thirds of the victim’s average weekly wage for the duration of a temporary or permanent disability.

The Defense Base Act is no-fault insurance. Victims need only establish a deployment-related cause to obtain benefits. However, the claims process is usually not easy. Insurance company lawyers use every possible opportunity to delay or deny compensation.

A few weeks after victims file their injury claims, a third-party mediator usually presides over a settlement conference. The mediator works with both sides and tries to forge a settlement agreement. If the injury is relatively straightforward, like a broken arm or a gunshot wound, these efforts often bear fruit. However, if the case has any complexities at all, it almost always goes to the next level.

This level is a trial-like hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge. Like an elected or appointed judge, an ALJ can consider legal arguments and rule on evidence admissibility. The only major difference between an ALJ and a full judge is that only full judges can issue orders that bind nonparties, at least in most cases.

Insurance companies know that attorneys have free reign at administrative hearings. So, rather than risk such a hearing, they often try to settle these claims. It is important that the settlement terms fully account for all injuries, especially reasonable future medical expenses. It is difficult to re-open closed cases. So, if the settlement is insufficient, victims could be financially responsible for these expenses.

For more information about DBA benefits, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.