Average Salary: Working in Iraq Worth the Risks?

It might surprise most Americans to learn that there are over 25,000 private contractors in Iraq. These contractors make up the third largest international force in the war-torn country, behind U.S. military and U.K. troops. For this reason, private contractors are often called the “shadow army in Iraq .”

Many jobs that were traditionally performed by the U.S. military - truck driving, security, laundry and food services - have been farmed out to private contractors. The idea is if these military jobs are “outsourced” to contractors, then the U.S. military is freed up for armed conflict.

According to our PayScale salary survey, the average wages for truck drivers in Illinois are around $45,000. If that same trucker works for a private contractor in Iraq, he will reportedly have a starting salary range of $100,000, but are the dangers worth it?

Private Contractor Tactical Training

Private contractors in Iraq, such as truck drivers wear only a flak jacket as they face ambushes, machine gunfire and improvised explosive devices along the roads. Trucks may also not have armor, adding more risk to this high salary range position.

Driving a truck in Iraq is a high risk, high salary range job.  There is a big difference in risk between typical high risk jobs like fishing in the gulf of Alaska and working in a hot war zone. Below I will look at each extreme, and see how different risks change the calculation for truck drivers in Iraq.

Private Contractor vs Household Employee

Risk/reward is a tricky calculation, and human beings are generally very bad at estimating the cost of risk. For example, is it a good deal for a 30-year-old truck driver with a family to support to go to Iraq for an extra $50,000 a year? Assume he could have worked another 35 years for an average salary of $45,000/year. If he dies in Iraq, his family loses 35 x $45,000 = $1.5 million in income.

This is where the tricky risk calculations come in. Say he plans to stay in Iraq for 2 years, bringing home an extra $100,000:

  • If his risk of death is 1.5 in 1000 per year (same as fishermen), the "expectation value" of the future income he risks losing is 2 years x 0.15% x $1.5 million = $4,500. Given he would earn $100,000, this looks like a risk worth taking.
  • If the risk is 10X that of fishermen, then he risks 2 x 1.5% x $1.5 million = $45,000. This is no longer a slam-dunk deal; the truck driver is now only making a little more than twice what he is risking.
  • If the risk is 100X that of fishermen (15% a year), he is risking $450,000 to earn $100,000. This is not the way to make more money for his family.

Above Average Wages for Truck Drivers, but...

Death isn't the only possible outcome. The US troops are injured at roughly 8X the rate they are killed in Iraq. If the truck driver is injured so that he no longer can work, his family still loses his future income.

How likely is the worst (15%) case above? For comparison, the US had an average of about 150,000 ground troops in Iraq during 2005. About 6800 were injured or killed that year. This is a casualty rate of 4.5%. If truck drivers in Iraq have the same risk, then the truck driver from Illinois is risking $135,000 in future income to earn $100,000 extra.

Halliburton Jobs in Middle East, Legal Recourse?

Life insurance for someone working in a war zone is hard to get, and the truck driver's family is unlikely to have other legal or financial redress like workman's compensation. For example, a lawsuit against Halliburton brought by the families of truckers killed in an ambush near Baghdad, in April 2004, was thrown out of court.

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller said that the U.S. military played a major role in sending the convoy and that it was not the court’s place to second-guess the Army’s orders. "The contracts show that the Army, not the defendants, was responsible for the security of the convoys," Judge Miller wrote.

Overtime Payment Government Contract?

Another downside is that there is no overtime pay for private contractors in Iraq. In a class action lawsuit against Halliburton for overtime, workers claimed that they were working more than 100 hours a week and not receiving overtime, even though a Pentagon contract called for overtime pay in Iraq.

However, U.S. District Court Judge Melinda Harmon ruled that Halliburton did not have to pay overtime, because U.S. laws governing military contracts say that only workers employed inside the United States are subject to US overtime pay laws.

Personally, if I were the truck driver, I would go back to school and learn to be a Clinical Research Associate. According to PayScale salary survey data, this job pays an average salary of $50,000 to start and can be over $90,000/year with 10 years of experience. The biggest risk is a paper cut.

How does your salary rank against the contractors in Iraq? Is it time to move to Baghdad, or stay home? Find out with our salary calculator.


Dr. Al Lee


  1. 26 Lukasz Panek 16 May
    looking for mechanic job
  2. 25 Amos biwott 06 May
    am working for department of defence kenya.intelligence officer..ready to work ..kindly advice me on how to get the job
  3. 24 Frank Struble 04 May
    I am very interested in cdl driving job over seas but am hearing a hard time finding were to apply
  4. 23 Brandon Sidwell 26 Apr
    I have been doing fiber optic work for two years now love. Just learn how to do directional boreing. But do have a background. Got in trouble at 19 now 29 Is there any work for someone like me over there since I can't join the Army.
  5. 22 david hancock 08 Apr
    drove trucks in convoys for 6 years in iraq.will go back.
  6. 21 Fuadihassan 20 Mar
    what about the salary of a truck driver in Iraq who is not living in us how much is he paid
  7. 20 Nate Strover 06 Mar
    Hi Ive been looking for work in Dubai for the longest and have had no luck. My goal is to obtain a warehouse shipping, receiving type job indoors and away from any harm to potentially be able to move my family. I have a Resume available and I would love to see what opportunities there are available.
  8. 19 Kennin tackett 03 Mar
    Is there any helper jobs over there??
  9. 18 Desmond Collins 23 Feb
    Looking for a contractors job overseas either in Dubai, or Afghanistan. Please email me with list...
  10. 17 Amir 21 Feb
    Looking job in the war zone. Pleas contact me.
  11. 16 George Kuhn 17 Feb
    Hard working male,35, looking for driving job in the war zone. Armer vehicle driving experience. Plz mail me any opportunities.
  12. 15 Eric Rawlings 15 Feb
    I have a diverse work background. I have a degree in Political Science and a MBA with a concentration in Human Resource. I would be a great candidate for administrative positions sir.
  13. 14 John gaboriault 09 Feb
    I am a journeyman electrician interested in working in Iraq. Please email me any opportunities that are available. I am highly motivated and would like to start working to restore power to war torn regions. Thank you for your time all oppotunities will be considered.
  14. 13 Razaro matenhese 02 Jan
    Im a zimbabwean and need a truck driving job in iraq nw. Any one to help . Email me
  15. 12 Daniel knight 31 Dec
    I have been a truck driver in the uk for nearly 30yrs and need a new experience. Will quite happily try working in Iraq
  16. 11 Adam b 01 Dec
    Wanting to find a trucking job Iraq Afghanistan
  17. 10 TamilSelvan 13 Nov
    Dear sir I am experienced electrical engineer please contact for your vacancies Thanks TamilSelvan 9500200482 ishaktamil@gmail.com
  18. 9 Nawaz ahmed 29 Oct
    I am a driver I want job you can help me
  19. 8 irshad ah khan 06 Oct
    network techation plz concatat +97430859392
  20. 7 zaker alam 30 Sep
    sir. i am 3(tree) years experience oman and 1(one)years experience qatar
  21. 6 David Scott 16 Aug
    I am a former soldier who needs to get out of the uk for a few years.. I've not been able to settle as a civilian. I am a class1 HGV driver. Sign me up!
  22. 5 ,Andrew Ellis 08 Jul
    I ready and willing to start now
  23. 4 koku.Janardhan 30 Jun
    Driver job
  24. 3 Dale Perry 08 Jun
    I am a welder of 12 years. Is there any jobs over for me
  25. 2 Jeemon Antony 01 Nov
    sir, i am ready for joying in your company(truck driver-12 years experience)
  26. 1 michael gourdine 02 Jun


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