June 4, 2004

I'm From the Private Sector and I'm Here to Help

Today's show is devoted to just one story. Contributing editor Nancy Updike went to Iraq to try to figure out what it's like to be a private citizen working in the middle of a war zone. Private contractors are a part of this war in unprecedented numbers, but we don't know that much about the people doing these jobs — why they chose to come to Iraq, and what they're seeing that we can't.

flickr/jayel aheram


This American Life host Ira Glass talks about one thing you probably haven't heard about the occupational hazards of working in Iraq: Since you work every single day, you never know what day of the week it actually is. (3 minutes)
Act One


The private security guys (from a company called Custer Battles) who guard Baghdad International Airport usually get along fine with the U.S. military personnel stationed there—except when Nancy happened to be taping, and a huge fight broke out. (7 minutes)
Act Two


A former military man, Hank was hired by Custer Battles to clean up one of its other Iraq operations, guarding businessmen. He has a very clear idea of who he wants working for him: "flat-bellied, steely-eyed professionals." Instead, he's trying to tighten up a outfit whose workers once engaged in an extended firefight at a Baghdad hotel—against each other. (19 minutes)
Act Three

Green Zone

The Green Zone is where the Coalition Provisional Authority has set up its headquarters, and the former seat of Saddam Hussein's government. Nancy ends up at a hidden restaurant by a helipad, with workers for Fluor Corporation, who have just arrived in Iraq to fix power plants. (5 minutes)
Act Four


On their way out to a power plant, Nancy and Lee, a supervisor for Fluor in Iraq, get shot at by men in a BMW. When they finally get to the plant, Nancy learns why it's been so difficult to get power plants running again in the country. (7 minutes)
Act Five


Karen Hahn, who works for Custer Battles at the airport, started out there screening women passengers—and learned a lot from their handbags. Unlike most people Nancy met in Iraq, Karen is not a former military person, she doesn't work with guns or big machines, and she's never been happier in her life. (3 minutes)
Act Six


Hundred of Iraqi police officers have been killed since the United States invaded Iraq. One Boston cop, Jerry Burke, is trying to keep them on the job, and train them in Western police practices. Besides rogue officers, not having enough guns and bullet-proof vests, and men refusing to go on patrols, it's going OK. He's also having a hard time setting up his driver with his translator. (9 minutes)
Act Seven

Hank Redux

Nancy finally gets Hank, the Custer Battles employee, to answer the question of whether he ever has any reservations about his mission—or the country's mission—in Iraq. (3 minutes)

John Kimbrough composed original music for this week's show. Nancy's story got support from HearingVoices.com, which gets funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.