Saturday, 7 July 2007

Shoddy Construction on the Imperial Mothership

The Washington Post reports on the embarrassing revelation that the $592 million U.S. embassy in Iraq is suffering not just from cost overruns, delays and Justice Department investigations over labour abuse, but might be virtually unusable due to shoddy construction. The fears arose after a contingent moved into the completed guards complex in the embassy compound:

The first signs of trouble, according to the cable, emerged when the kitchen staff tried to cook the inaugural meal in the new guard base on May 15. Some appliances did not work. Workers began to get electric shocks. Then a burning smell enveloped the kitchen as the wiring began to melt.

All the food from the old guard camp -- a collection of tents -- had been carted to the new facility, in the expectation that the 1,200 guards would begin moving in the next day. But according to the cable, the electrical meltdown was just the first problem in a series of construction mistakes that soon left the base uninhabitable, including wiring problems, fuel leaks and noxious fumes in the sleeping trailers.

"Poor quality construction . . . life safety issues . . . left [the embassy] with no recourse but to shut the camp down, in spite of the blistering heat in Baghdad," the May 29 cable informed Washington.

Such challenges with construction contracts inside the fortified enclave known as the Green Zone reflect the broader problems that have thwarted reconstruction efforts throughout war-torn Iraq.

Indeed. The issue highlights the problems of the entire reconstruction effort in Iraq. Even while American politicians grow increasingly opposed to reconstruction spending and complain about how the United States is spending so much on an 'ungrateful' Iraqi public, reports have repeatedly shown how most "reconstruction" money is spent on private defence contractors, projects are allocated not through open public bidding, but to companies (such as Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellog Brown and Root) to which administration officials have rather dubious personal ties.

This article from the American magazine MotherJones chronicles a few of the reconstruction "efforts" that have come to light. They include, amongst other things:

A bridge and oil pipeline that was destroyed in the American invasion in 2003. After a survey it was estimated that it could be repaired within five months at a cost of $5 million. An Iraqi construction company offered to do the job. (Note: Iraqi companies had repaired the fair more extensive infrastructure damage throughout the country after the first Gulf War within a year.) Instead it was decided that the pipeline should be made more secure and built under the ground. Halliburton was awarded a $75 million contract to do so (without bidding). 3 years later, all the money was spent and the job wasn't done. Investigations found that Halliburton knew their proposal was not technically possible - but they took the contract anyway. A new contract for $40 million was awarded to another American company. The bridge and pipeline have yet to be built.

The Parsons Corporation was given a $243 million no-bid contract to build 150 medical clinics. By January 2006 it was found that only 6 clinics were completed and only 14 more could possibly be completed before the money ran out. Parsons would "try" to complete them by April 2006 when it was leaving the country. This, by the way, was what the American Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction called the "most important program in the health sector".

But its not just private corporations which are burning money. Take this report from in the IHT:

Late Friday, the inspector general also released an audit report on a $147 million United States-led program to train and equip thousands of Iraqis to protect oil pipelines, electrical transmission lines and hundreds of key installations in both sectors.
Begun in September 2003, the effort, called Task Force Shield, was so disorganized that the auditors were never able to determine basic facts like how many Iraqis were trained, how many weapons were purchased and where much of the equipment ended up, the report says.

The Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has launched an investigation into Iraqi reconstruction (you can check out their website here) but its safe to say that apart from a slap on the wrist here and a cluck of disapproval there, its not going to do much in terms of the damage that's been done.

Halliburton's stock just keeps on rising, as it grows bloated on the profits of the Iraqi war - money that ultimately comes from American taxpayers. To further rub insult into injury, Halliburton has now shifted its headquarters to the tax-haven of Dubai. Its no wonder that some Americans are beginning to feel that the entire Iraq War was a costly, bloody way of subsidising corporate America.


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