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IRAQ: Deaths of Iraqi Workers for U.S. Companies Rise

Deaths of Iraqis and foreigners working for U.S. companies in Iraq are increasing more rapidly than American contractor deaths as insurgents target reconstruction projects, according to a Pentagon inspector.

by Tony CapaccioBloomberg
July 31st, 2005

July 31 (Bloomberg) -- Deaths of Iraqis and foreigners working for U.S. companies in Iraq are increasing more rapidly than American contractor deaths as insurgents target reconstruction projects, according to a Pentagon inspector.

Based on death and injury claims filed with the U.S. Labor Department, 217 non-U.S. contractors and 113 U.S. contractors have been killed since the March 2003 invasion, the report from Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said. The largest increase occurred in the quarter ended June 30 when 36 mostly Iraqi contractors were killed, as were 18 Americans.

Bowen's report and a July 21 Pentagon assessment reported at least 2,000 Iraqi security force personnel have been killed in the two years since the invasion. Iraqi deaths from rebel attacks is one factor U.S. commanders weigh as they assess whether U.S. troop levels can be reduced.

``The threat to life and property from continuing insurgent attacks remains a major impediment to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Iraq,'' Bowen's report said.

As of July 29, 1,792 U.S. military service personnel have been killed in Iraq in hostile action or accidents, with another 13,657 wounded. Sixty-eight troops died last month, the largest number since 125 in November 2004. From July 1-16, 19 died, according to a Pentagon database.

Defense Base Act

Contractors are required by a 1941 law called the Defense Base Act to carry death and injury insurance for both U.S. citizens and foreign workers operating under government contracts. Claims are filed with private carriers and could eventually be reimbursed by the U.S. government. The Labor Department's Office of Workers Compensation manages the program.

Injury and death claims from contractors rose 31 percent from March 30 to June 30, from 2,582 to 3,389, according to Bowen.

The largest number of Iraqi contract workers, 22, died Dec. 5, 2004, when the bus they were riding to perform clean-up work at a U.S. ammunition dump near Tikrit was attacked by insurgents. The victims worked for Al-Naseem Co. for General Trading, a subcontractor of closely held Environmental Chemical Corp.

Bowen's office monitors the spending of U.S. tax dollars for Iraqi reconstruction, with the largest amount, $18.4 billion, appropriated by Congress in November 2003.

As of July 6, almost $7 billion, or 35 percent of the $18.4 billion, has been paid to contractors. Most of the remaining sum has been committed to projects, though not yet paid.

``Although precise estimates are difficult to make, the threat to those involved in reconstruction and rehabilitation, along with the destruction of the Iraq infrastructure by sabotage, have impacted the effectiveness of the $18.4 billion investment,'' Bowen wrote.

Improved Accounting

Aside from the challenges of violence, the Pentagon needs to improve the accounting and information systems used to estimate expenditures so it doesn't run short of money on individual projects, the report said.

``At the heart of many of these findings is a concern that management does not have adequate information systems to support decision making about the projects, contracts and financing of Iraq reconstruction,'' Bowen said,

One new audit said only 67 of 151 construction contracts, all of which were valued at as much as $4.2 billion, established realistic schedules and cost forecasts, Bowen wrote.

``Inaccurate cost-to-complete estimates could result in needed projects being delayed or not built,'' he wrote.