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US investigates contract workforce in Iraq

Associated Press / July 29, 2010

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BAGHDAD — The US military said yesterday that it is clamping down on contracting firms working on American bases using employees whose home countries ban travel to Iraq, raising questions about why the contractors were allowed to work in the country for so long despite the bans.

Philippines citizens have been banned since 2004 from traveling to Iraq after insurgents threatened to behead a Filipino truck driver, and officials in the Philippines say they have repeatedly asked the United States and other countries to respect their ban. Nepal banned workers from going to Iraq after militants executed 12 Nepalese in 2004.

Despite the bans, many citizens from Nepal and the Philippines still make the journey to Iraq, joining the tens of thousands of contractors working in jobs ranging from security to kitchen staff on bases.

US Colonel Richard E. Nolan, of the military’s contracting office in Iraq, said the military is investigating the firms’ workforces. Approximately 6,000 people from Nepal and the Philippines working for the Department of Defense in Iraq could potentially be affected, he said.

Nolan says companies would have 20 days to outline a plan for ensuring their workforce conforms with regulations. There is no immediate timeline for when the workers would have to leave the country.

Nepalese media, including the Himalayan Times, reported that the Nepalese government decided yesterday to lift the travel ban to allow its citizens working in Iraq to remain. It had not, however, decided whether to allow travel to Iraq in the future.

Nolan said the issue came to light when he received information that at least eight contractors had been left behind by their employers. When the military began trying to repatriate the eight contractors, they discovered that four were from countries that banned travel to Iraq.

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