U.S. corporations set to profit off Iraq

The Bush administration’s attempt to fashion for itself the sole role of ruler and victor in post-war Iraq is meeting growing domestic and international opposition.

In an April 8 letter to Comptroller General David Walker, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.) demanded an explanation of the manner in which the Agency for International Development (AID) has awarded contracts for rebuilding Iraq’s infrastructure. In their letter the congressmen said little is known about the agency’s authority to award no-bid contracts to six companies, among them Bechtel Corp.; Stevedoring Services of America; and Kellogg, Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary. The letter took note of news reports that the six made combined political contributions of nearly $3 billion between 1999 and 2002, with some 70 percent going to GOP candidates.

The same reports point to the fact that the Bush administration was making plans allowing U.S. corporations to skim the cream from contracts to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure even before the first U.S. bombs fell on Baghdad on March 19.

With a price tag estimated to exceed $100 billion, reconstruction and repair of Iraq’s water systems, roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and extinguishing any oil well fires will be the largest reconstruction project since the Marshall Plan.

In their letter Waxman and Dingell noted that the six companies on the preferred list have been invited to participate in bidding for contracts that will eventually total $900 million and that all of them have deep political ties in Washington, beginning with Vice President Dick Cheney, former CEO of Halliburton.

Other members of the military/construction industry complex include George Shultz, Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, now on the board of Bechtel, and Philip Carroll, former CEO of Fluor Corporation.

Carroll is considered by many to be Donald Rumsfeld’s choice to run Iraq’s oil industry. Bechtel has contracts for more than 950 projects in 67 countries and won new contracts totaling more than $9.3 billion in 2002. Fluor, ranked 186 on the Fortune 500 list, has 50,000 employees and maintains offices in 25 countries.

The letter also expressed concern that AID’s decision to limit contracts to U.S. companies will sideline the United Nations development agencies and other multinational organizations.

These concerns were also reflected in the United States Senate where Maine’s GOP Senator Susan Collins joined Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in introducing legislation on April 10 requiring government agencies to justify how companies are selected to bid on reconstruction contracts. The decision to introduce the legislation came after attempts to attach a similar provision to Bush’s $80 billion-plus supplemental war budget failed. Collins is one of three GOP senators who had earlier voted to limit the Bush tax cut to half the president’s request.

As might be expected, the Associated General Contractors of America (GCA) expressed its support for the methods used by the Agency for International Development in awarding contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq. GCA said these methods included ensuring that U.S. firms get a preference in all contracts and that “private property and payment rights enjoyed in the United States be protected in post-war Iraq.”

The unilateralism of the United States in attempting to impose its model of a new Iraq was challenged by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who said recently he expects the UN to play an important role in any post-conflict Iraq. “Above all, the UN involvement does bring a legitimacy which is necessary for the country, the region and for the peoples of the world,” he said before meeting with the Security Council on April 7.

Many observers saw Annan’s meeting with the council, which was deliberately timed to coincide with the meeting between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as an effort to stake out a major role for the UN in post-war Iraq.

Annan also used the occasion to announce the appointment of Rafeeuddin Ahmed, a former UN assistant secretary general and Pakistani diplomat, as his special advisor on Iraq.

Although Ahmed’s appointment was welcomed by all Security Council members, the council remains bitterly divided on the UN role in post-war Iraq, with the European Union, backed by Great Britain, pushing for greater UN involvement than the as yet undefined “vital role” promised by Bush.

These divisions, essentially the same as those that existed prior to the U.S. invasion, were underscored by U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte who told the council he was “sure” there would be a role for the UN but that the matter would require further discussion. He warned that people “shouldn’t be surprised” if the U.S., with Britain relegated to the role of junior partner, takes the lead in reconstructing – and setting the political parameters – of a post-war Iraq.

During Security Council debate on the future of Iraq the French government reiterated its position that the UN should have a major role, while Russia made clear that any resolution dealing with post-conflict involvement should not be construed as putting a UN stamp of approval on the war.

A tip of the hat to Jen Barnett, whose internet skills contributed greatly to this article. The author can be reached at fgab708@aol.com



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