Life Getting More Difficult for Contractors in Iraq

The government’s close (some would say overbearing) regulation of private affairs continues. A homosexual relationship in Iraq is now punishable by up to fifteen years in prison.

Mohsen Al-Mandalawi, the acting parliamentary speaker, said the new legislation was aimed at “protecting the moral fabric” of society.

“There is no place for homosexuality in Iraq, the land of prophets, pure imams, and righteous saints,” Al-Mandalawi said in a statement on Saturday.

Samar, a member of Baghdad’s LGBTQ community, said the legislation was “unfair” and part of a wider “trend” toward homophobia in the country.

“I have my own business, which I started a long time ago, gathering money so I can leave Iraq, whether legally or illegally. From the amount of pressure I face, I’ve reached a stage of despair. Let it be illegal migration; I’d rather die on the way than stay in Iraq,” Samar said.

Personal Conflicts in Iraq

America’s ethical system is loosely based on the story of the Good Samaritan. This man went out of his way to help his neighbor, who was an injured traveler. How far “out of your way” must you go? Who is your neighbor? Different people answer these questions differently. 

The Islamic ethical system, on the other hand, is practically set in stone. It is based on the three ideas of Ihsan (variously translated as faith in action or right living), Adab (refined etiquette), and Akhlaq (morality or virtue). 

As a result, many Islamic countries rigorously censor internet content, movies, TV shows, and all other forms of mass media. Drinking alcohol is usually haram (prohibited), as is playing music in public and many other activities that Americans partake in daily. Furthermore, in most Islamic countries, women have very few civil rights. Women cannot even drive cars in Saudi Arabia.

So, taken in context, Iraq’s ban on homosexual behavior is unsurprising. When they serve overseas, contractors must adjust to these strict ethical rules because the rules will not adjust to them. Most people are well aware that Americans are generally unpopular in many parts of the world.

These rules are hard to swallow for many people, especially if they are not prepared for them. As a contractor, keep in mind that your deployment is probably temporary. Most contractors do not remain in-country for more than a few months at a time. Once your deployment ends, it is back to the moral relativism of the United States.

Military Conflicts in Iraq

Personal conflicts are a concern in Iraq. Military and political conflicts are a much bigger concern, at least for private military contractors. Current conflicts include ongoing internal strife that threatens American interests. Potential conflicts include being caught in the crossfire of a war between the United States and Iran or, perhaps more likely now, Israel and Iran.

American troops left Iraq for good in 2017. But, as we know from bitter experience, a war does not end when one side stops fighting.

Before they left, the Americans and their Iraqi Security Forces allies effectively broke the back of ISIS. However, pockets of insurgent activity remain, especially in rural areas. Related violence has decreased sharply in recent years. But that statistic is small comfort for contractors at remote bases who are injured or killed in unexpected attacks.

The sudden surge in military violence is more concerning. Originally, most Iraqi militias were anti-ISIS forces affiliated with political parties. When ISIS was defeated, many of these groups ignored the government’s orders (or pleas, depending on the militia) to disband. Now that the common enemy is mostly gone, these militias mostly fight each other. 

On Christmas Day 2023, 200 people, including many bystanders, were killed in clashes between rival militias Saraya Al-Salam and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. “Every day we hear the sounds of bullets,” one witness reported. “The situation is miserable. We cannot sleep sometimes because of the sounds of bullets, and we cannot even go out if the sounds are near our homes. And the next day, when there are dead people, there are funerals, and the roads near the dead person’s house are closed, and we are in real trouble.”

During the administration of Donald Trump, a U.S.-Iranian war almost seemed inevitable. But President Joe Biden, much like his former boss Barack Obama, has taken a more conciliatory stance. 

Tensions between Israel and Iran, however, may have never been higher. In April 2024, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard launched a large-scale air attack against Israel and the occupied Golan Heights. The IRG launched 170 drones, which was described as the largest drone attack in history. The assault also included over 30 cruise missiles and more than 120 ballistic missiles.

Few injuries were reported, as Israel said it and its allies shot down 99% of the drones and missiles before they crossed Israeli airspace. The Israelis struck back less than a week later despite warnings that such a reprisal could trigger a regional war.

If war comes between Israel and Iran, American contractors in Iraq will be caught squarely in the crossfire. 

Contractors and Contractor Injuries in Iraq

America’s official combat role in Iraq ended in 2017. However, many private military contractors remain in the country to protect American assets, including American citizens, and help rebuild the war-torn country.

Militia and ISIS attacks could occur anywhere at any time. There’s no such thing as a rear area in such conflicts. As a result, contractors often sustain combat wounds, like gunshot wounds. These injuries are almost always debilitating, especially since field hospitals are basically first-aid stations. Extensive injury treatment requires an expensive and time-consuming transfer to a larger facility.

Non-combat-related injuries, such as training injuries, are usually more common than combat-related injuries in these situations. That’s especially true among private military contractors, who often bear the burden of training government security forces. This training usually includes not only by-the-book training but also indoctrination into anti-insurgency tactics that cannot be learned in school.

Hearing loss may be the most common rebuilding contractor injury. Many construction sites are noisy enough to permanently impair hearing loss. OSHA and other workplace safety regulations do not apply in Iraq, despite the country’s commitment to morality and doing the right thing.

Hearing loss has physical and emotional consequences. Many hearing loss victims struggle with this injury for months or years before they seek treatment. In the meantime, they usually withdraw from family and friends. The withdrawal often causes serious depression.

All contractors are usually eligible for Defense Base Act benefits. The eligibility requirements are broad.

First, the injury must have occurred in an overseas war zone. Although official combat activity ended in Iraq long ago, the country is still clearly a war zone, especially as defined by the Defense Base Act. Any country with any official U.S. military presence is a war zone.

Additionally, a Defense Base Act lawyer must establish a nexus (indirect connection) between deployment and injury. For example, if a suicide bomber destroys a market where Rickj happened to be shopping, even if he was not on duty, he is probably eligible for DBA benefits.

These benefits include direct payment of reasonably necessary medical expenses and partial lost wage replacement for the duration of a temporary or permanent disability. For more information about DBA procedure, contact Barnett, Lerner, Karsen, Frankel & Castro, P.A.