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[casi] Good story about Iraqi war profiteering. $50m American bid favored over $300k Iraqi firm

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SF Gate

Live from Iraq, it's the real story
Jon Carroll <>
Wednesday, September 3, 2003
 <> C2003 San Francisco
Chronicle | Feedback <>


I suppose blogs have had their day as a populist phenomenon. Democratic
candidates for president have blogs now, and that's pretty much the death
knell for cutting-edge status. If John Kerry has one, it's not a trend, it's
an appliance.

But I think that's true only of blogs produced in the United States. In
other countries, the Internet is still a revolutionary tool, a place for
information censored in every other medium in the nation. Vox populi, and no
pop-up ads. It's 1991 all over again.

.5 Some of the best blogs are coming out of Iraq. They are designed for a
foreign readership -- they're in English, for one thing -- and they tell a
very different story from anything our media is presenting. Here's the
difference: Young Iraqi bloggers know what they're talking about. They have
not just arrived in country with a briefing book, a Kevlar vest and a Lonely
Planet guide.

My current favorite is
<> . It is written by a woman, a
resident of Baghdad not otherwise identified, and it's funny and sad and
constantly informative. I offer as an example one tale from last week. It's
one of those "you thought this was going on but you had no data" deals.

.5 Here's the setup: Riverbend has a cousin who works as a structural
engineer. He is, says Riverbend, a "bridge freak"; he can spent hours
talking about trusses and pillars and stuff. (It is useful to remember that
Iraq, before we started destroying it, had a pretty good infrastructure of
roads, bridges, water and power, education; all that. Iraq ain't

The Iraqi company that employees Riverbend's cousin was asked to bid on
rebuilding the New Diyala bridge south and west of Baghdad.

"They did the necessary tests and analyses (mumblings about soil composition
and water depth, expansion joints and girders) and came up with a number
they tentatively put forward -- $300,000. This included new plans and
designs, raw materials (quite cheap in Iraq), labor, contractors, travel
expenses, etc.

"Let's pretend my cousin is a dolt. Let's pretend he hasn't been working
with bridges for over 17 years. Let's pretend he didn't work on replacing at
least 20 of the 133 bridges damaged during the first Gulf War. Let's pretend
he's wrong and the cost of rebuilding this bridge is four times the number
they estimated -- let's pretend it will actually cost $1,200,000. Let's just
use our imagination.

"A week later, the New Diyala Bridge contract was given to an American
company. This particular company estimated the cost of rebuilding the bridge
would be around -- brace yourselves -- $50,000,000!!"

She goes on to talk about all the work Iraqi engineers did rebuilding the
country after the first Gulf War. She tells a story:

"My favorite reconstruction project was the Mu'alaq Bridge over the Tigris.
It is a suspended bridge that was designed and built by a British company.
In 1991 it was bombed and everyone just about gave up on ever being able to
cross it again. By 1994, it was up again, exactly as it was -- without
British companies, with Iraqi expertise.

"One of the art schools decided that although it wasn't the most
sophisticated bridge in the world, it was going to be the most glamorous. On
the day it was opened to the public, it was covered with hundreds of painted
flowers in the most outrageous colors -- all over the pillars, the bridge
itself, the walkways along the sides of the bridge. People came from all
over Baghdad just to stand upon it and look down into the Tigris.

"So instead of bringing in thousands of foreign companies that are going to
want billions of dollars, why aren't the Iraqi engineers, electricians and
laborers being used? Thousands of people who have no work would love to be
able to rebuild Iraq; no one is being given a chance."

Say, Americans: That's our money.


Be sure to check out her hot links too; she's done her research well.

Sing it one more time like that, sing it one more time like that, sing it

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