According to a report prepared for Congress, there are about 30,000 “private security contractors” currently in Iraq performing military functions… aka mercenaries. There are another 182,000 people under U.S. government contracts operating in Iraq (these are builders, suppliers, engineers, etc.)
Most of the mercenaries are former military men, now employed by security firms such as Blackwater. Blackwater is a shady mercenary outfit run by a man named Erik Prince, a former Navy Seal. Blackwater is the largest private security contractor in Iraq and has been coming under heavy criticism recently for super-aggressive, violent tactics; however, Blackwater also has never allowed anyone guarded by them to be killed or seriously injured. Like most private companies, Blackwater is highly efficient in its job (protecting convoys, individuals), but there are unintended side effects. The Iraqis hate Blackwater for their cavalier violence and several incidences of their soldiers going on killing sprees.
Machiavelli talked about mercenaries and their usage extensively in “The Prince”. He said that they were at best “useless and dangerous”. Mercenaries are only loyal to the dollar and do not fight well against organized, strong opponents. Throughout history they have been known to turn on their employers when they sense weakness or a potential gain for themselves. The Roman Empire collapsed after it began to rely on paid troops rather than loyal citizen-soldiers. The American government needs to fight it’s own battles and not throw away billions on mercenaries who hurt our chances of successfully withdrawing from Iraq.