For the first time ever, a rail line will connect longtime frenemies Iraq and Iran. Conductors might yell “All aboard!” by the end of 2024.
Builders will lay a little over eighteen miles of track between Iraq’s southern city of Basra and the Iranian border town of Shalamja, linking nations with ties that have deepened since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, after which pro-Tehran Shi’ite Muslim parties enhanced their influence in Baghdad.
Regularly, the world’s largest annual religious gathering of up to 20 million mostly Shi’ite Muslims takes part in the ‘Arbaeen’ pilgrimage to Iraq’s holy city of Karbala to commemorate the slaying of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.
Currently, many religious pilgrims walk dozens of miles from the Iran-Iraq border to Karbala or drive there in overcrowded cars and buses. Deadly accidents have been frequent.
Enemies: Iran/Iraq War
Longstanding border disputes, which are very common in this part of the world, mostly sparked the 1980s Iran-Iraq War.
Before the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire (modern Turkey) controlled much of this territory. During the fighting, Great Britain and France secretly agreed to divide this territory between themselves when the war ended. The Sykes-Picot agreement was very specific about the separation between the French and British spheres of influence. It was much less specific about the borders between territories.
The two sides basically fought each other to the point of exhaustion in this war, which lasted almost a decade. Therefore, the conflict did little to settle their long-standing rivalry. That came later. More on that below.
Rumors swirled that both sides used chemical weapons during this conflict. Iran moved on to nuclear weapons, or at least their development, in the 1990s. American officials might have wrongly assumed that Iraq did the same thing, in part to justify the invasion. After Iraq’s army capitulated, weapons inspectors scoured the country for nuclear weapons and found nothing.
Indirectly, the Iran-Iraq War led to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which indirectly led to 9/11 and the Global War on Terror. As mentioned, the war ended in a stalemate. But in the early 1980s, Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein clearly had the upper hand. U.S. President Ronald Reagan was eager to back a winner and stick it to Iran, as the U.S. was still smarting from the 1979 hostage ordeal. So, Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad to negotiate an arms sale.
Hussein borrowed money from Kuwait to pay for the weapons. After that war ended, Kuwait demanded payment. Hussein calculated that occupying the country was cheaper than repaying the loan.
Friends: Post 2003
Diplomatically, most nations didn’t take a stand for or against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Iran was among the notable exceptions. When Tehran strongly condemned the action, the seeds of reconciliation were planted. In 2005, Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the pro-Iran Islamist Dawa Party became head of Iraq’s provisional government.
Ties between the two nations became closer and closer. One of the most recent examples is a March 2023 pact between Iran’s Supreme National Security Council secretary Ali Shamkhani and Iraq’s National Security Advisor Qasim al-Araji. They signed a border security agreement to not allow armed groups in the Iraqi Kurdish region to launch border-crossing attacks on Iran. The arrangement was prompted by a missile attack from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards against Iranian Kurdish groups.
Despite the official rapport, Iran-affiliated terrorist attacks continue in Iraq. Both sides insist that these groups are rogue groups that have no official sanction, or alternatively, that Iraq was caught in the crossfire. But when politicians in any nation make such assertions, it’s almost impossible to confirm or deny them.
How Contractors Fit In
Private military contractors aren’t exclusively hired guns. They support American interests abroad in wartime and peacetime.
During combat operations, contractors usually have guard and escort duties. These activities enable commanders to allocate more regular servicemembers and other assets to offensive operations. The more successful these operations are, the sooner everyone, except for contractors, goes home.
This point brings up a critical difference between contractors and mercenaries. U.S. law prohibits contractors from participating in offensive operations. Mercenaries are basically the opposite. They are almost always on offense, and they often go off the chain.
As for peacetime operations, many people do not associate contractors with activities like building a rail line. But contractors make valuable contributions to these endeavors as well.
Of the two stages of a war, combat, and rebuilding, rebuilding might be the most important phase. Winning the peace is usually more important, and more difficult, than winning the war. Therefore, many contractors carry laptops or screwdrivers instead of machine guns. They supervise construction projects onsite or lend their technical expertise to the work itself.
Security contractors remain onsite. A single terrorist act could erase several months of work, erode public confidence in the government, and help terrorist groups recruit new members. America cannot allow that to happen after so many people have sacrificed so much.
Injury Compensation Available
Combat and non-combat contractors alike risk serious injury when they serve overseas. These serious injuries include:
- Trauma Injuries: Non-combat injuries, like falls and training accidents, often cause more casualties than enemy operations. Generally, these victims are very far from the nearest quality medical facility when these injuries occur. Because of the treatment delay, when doctors begin work, the victim’s medical bills are much higher.
- Occupational Diseases: Hearing loss and toxic exposure cancer are two of the most common occupational diseases among contractors. Frequently, military facilities are noisy and busy enough to cause hearing loss, but not noisy enough to trigger government safeguards. Toxic exposure cancer, like other forms of cancer, has a very long latency period. These victims are usually sick for decades, yet they show no symptoms of illness.
The Defense Base Act replaces lost wages and pays reasonable necessary medical bills if the victim’s injury was deployment-related.
Most victims receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage for the duration of their temporary disabilities. The DBA insurance company also has a legal obligation to pay all reasonably necessary medical bills. DBA lawyers hold companies to these commitments.
For more information about the DBA process, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.