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Iraq: Reconstruction and U.S. Interest

Globe and Mail
April 1st, 2003

Even before winning the war, the United States appears intent on managing the peace and the costly reconstruction on its own. This opens Washington to criticism that the conflict is partially about profiteering, rather than simply the removal of a vile dictator and the introduction of some stability to a volatile region.

U.S. government agencies already have started doling out lucrative contracts for the massive cleanup and rebuilding tasks in Iraq once the shooting stops. So far, these deals are being distributed among a small group of influential companies, all of them American and most of them with close ties to current or former administration officials.

One of these is Kellogg Brown & Root, the engineering and construction arm of Houston oil-services giant Halliburton Co., which was run by Dick Cheney before his return to politics as George W. Bush's running mate. The Halliburton unit was one of five large U.S. companies selected to bid on a $600-million (U.S.) contract to rebuild Iraq's roads, bridges, utilities, hospitals and schools.

The Bush administration launched the bidding process in mid-February, a month before the bombs started falling and at a time when the United Nations was still trying to come up with a compromise to avert war.

Amid mounting criticism, Halliburton has now been dropped from the bidding, either at its own request or the U.S. government's. But it is the Bush administration, not Halliburton, that is at fault for this unseemly situation.

Kellogg Brown & Root had earlier won a contract from the U.S. Army to put out fires in Iraq's oil fields. No other companies were invited to bid. KBR promptly subcontracted the work to two smaller Houston companies. A Canadian expert, Safety Boss Inc., was left out, prompting claims that Washington is snubbing those countries that opposed the war.

But even its closest allies, Britain and Australia, have raised questions about the way the United States is controlling the rebuilding process and hogging important deals for preferred companies.

These include a $4.8-million contract awarded to Stevedoring Services of America, a long-time Republican donor with a checkered labour history, to operate Iraq's vital deep-water port at Umm Qasr. The British military, which did the fighting for Umm Qasr and is currently running the port, wanted it handed back to most of the same Iraqi managers who were in charge before the war.

The Blair government has pressed hard for a broad UN role in managing the peace and reconstruction, but so far unsuccessfully. The U.S. administration has shown little inclination to hand over anything to international agencies, apart from humanitarian relief work.

The Bush administration already has drawn up detailed postwar plans for governing Iraq, including dividing it into three regions, and rebuilding its civil administration — with a retired U.S. army general in charge. The planning makes little provision for the UN or other multilateral agencies.

Even before the Iraq crisis, those voices in Washington supporting multilateral approaches to global security problems were in a minority. Once the UN failed to back the war effort or come up with an acceptable means of enforcing its own resolutions, these voices were effectively silenced.

But while the UN Security Council dealt itself out of the war, that does not mean the international community should be excluded from playing a major role in the peace.

The best hope of achieving the difficult — some would say quixotic — goal of replacing despotism with a democracy that can serve as a model to the region is to involve as many other countries as possible in the complex process.





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