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November 13, 2006

Bechtel Takes The Money And Runs Iraq

Halliburton's not the only company with friends in high places that is making a killing in Iraq. There's also construction giant Bechtel, who has picked up $2.3 billion for accomplishing next to nothing. Now they're leaving. IPS News:

The decision of the giant engineering company Bechtel to withdraw from Iraq has left many Iraqis feeling betrayed. In its departure they see the end of remaining hopes for the reconstruction of Iraq. [...]

Bechtel, whose board members have close ties to the Bush administration, announced last week that it was done with trying to operate in the war-torn country. The company has received 2.3 billion dollars of Iraqi reconstruction funds and U.S. taxpayer money, but is leaving without completing most of the tasks it set out to.

On every level of infrastructure measurable, the situation in Iraq is worse now than under the rule of Saddam Hussein. That includes the 12 years of economic sanctions since the first Gulf War in 1991, a period that former UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq Dennis Halliday described as "genocidal" for Iraqis.

The average household in Iraq now gets two hours of electricity a day. There is 70 percent unemployment, 68 percent of Iraqis have no access to safe drinking water, and only 19 percent have sewage access. Not even oil production has matched pre-invasion levels.

The security situation is hellish, with a recent study published in the prestigious British medical journal Lancet estimating 655,000 excess deaths in Iraq as a result of the invasion and occupation.

The group Medact recently said that easily treatable conditions such as diarrhea and respiratory illness are causing 70 percent of all child deaths, and that "of the 180 health clinics the U.S. hoped to build by the end of 2005, only four have been completed — and none opened."

A proposed 200 million dollar project to build 142 primary care centres ran out of cash after building just 20 clinics, a performance that the World Health Organisation described as "shocking."

Iraqis are complaining louder now than under the sanctions. Lack of electricity has led to increasing demand for gasoline to run generators. And gasoline is among the most scarce commodities in this oil-rich country. [...]

"The [electricity] situation now is much worse and it seems not to be improving despite the huge contracts signed with American companies. It is strange how billions of dollars spent on electricity brought no improvement whatsoever, but in fact worsened the situation." [...]

Bechtel's contract included reconstruction of water treatment systems, electricity plants, sewage systems, airports and roads.

Two former Iraqi ministers of electricity were charged with corruption by the Iraqi Commission of Integrity set up under the occupation. One of them, Ayham al-Samarraii, was sentenced to jail but was taken away by his U.S. security guards. He insisted that it was not he who looted the ministry's money. [...]

Bechtel was among the first companies, along with Halliburton, where U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney once worked, to have received fixed-fee contracts drawn to guarantee profit.

Ahmed al-Ani who works with a major Iraqi construction contracting company says the model Bechtel adopted was certain to fail.

"They charged huge sums of money for the contracts they signed, then they sold them to smaller companies who resold them again to small inexperienced Iraqi contractors," Ani told IPS. "These inexperienced contractors then had to execute the works badly because of the very low prices they get, and the lack of experience."

Some Iraqi political analysts, rather optimistically, look at Bechtel's departure from a different angle.

"I see the beginning of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq," Maki al-Nazzal told IPS. "It started with Bechtel and Haliburton's propaganda, and might end with their escape from the field. They came with Bremer and introduced themselves as heroes and saviours who would bring prosperity to Iraq, but all they did was market U.S. propaganda."

U.S. President George W. Bush told reporters on a visit to Iraq last June: "You can measure progress in megawatts of electricity delivered. You can measure progress in terms of oil sold on the market on behalf of the Iraqi people."

By his standards, the position in Iraq is now much worse. [Emphasis added]

$2.3 billion is one hell of a lot of money. Especially since it doesn't seem to have bought much of anything. But Bechtel, like Halliburton, won't suffer because of its failure to get the job done. When the next multi-billion dollar contracts come along, they'll be right back at the head of the line. The game's rigged, and they're playing with our money.

Crony capitalism is way too polite a term. It's pillage and plunder, rape and looting. They're pirates, gangsters, vampires with their fangs in the neck of the world.

Posted by Jonathan at November 13, 2006 10:39 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Comments

I recently finished "Confessions of an economic hitman", and if you believe perkins' tale, this is par for the course for both comnpanies.

For them it really is "mission accomplished"...

Posted by: Big Gav at November 15, 2006 05:56 AM