Erik Prince, an American Commando in Exile
Credit: Preston Keres / The Washington Post / Getty Images
The Golden Age for Contractors & Mercenaries

Blackwater/Xe may have been dropped from the State Department's Worldwide Personal Protective Services contract, but Xe founder Erik Prince's vision for his industry is being realized on a scale that even he could not have imagined – with firms such as DynCorp International and Triple Canopy (both now located in Virginia) racing to fill the contracts denied Xe. How big are we talking? Despite being an outspoken critic of private contractors during her 2008 campaign for president, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will soon preside over a private army in Iraq that dwarfs that of the Bush era. Here is a look at the current Obama administration's security plans for Iraq.

On August 2, 2010, President Obama announced: "Our commitment in Iraq is changing from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats." To keep those diplomats safe, however, the State Department plans on doubling – to roughly 7,000 – the number of private security guards and low-paid foreign mercenaries assigned to U.S. personnel and locations.

Approximately the size of Vatican City and costing $592 million, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is among the largest and most expensive in the world, even though it was built with cheap, imported labor. A bunkerlike complex of 21 buildings, it spreads over 104 acres and houses 835 employees. Private guards maintain the complex and other facilities in Basra, Erbil, Hillah, Kirkuk, and Tallil.

2,500 ARMORED SUVs and 50 MRAPS
To enable our diplomats and nation-builders to move safely around Iraq, the U.S. Embassy has ordered up a fleet of between 2,500 and 3,200 armored sport utility vehicles at a cost of approximately $150,000 each and has asked the departing U.S. military forces to leave it 50 MRAPs – 28,000- to 42,000-pound trucks built to withstand massive roadside IED explosions.

Twenty-five Black Hawk helicopters and a small number of fixed-wing aircraft and air-support crews will also be used to transport embassy staff between locations. Blackwater pioneered the concept of using "Little Birds" with two snipers to protect SUV convoys (and as rescue or escape vehicles). DynCorp International will replace Blackwater in providing this air support.