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[casi] Myths, Truth And U.S. Re-Construction


The Myth: Iraqis, prior to occupation, lived in little beige tents
up on the sides of little dirt roads all over Baghdad. The men and
boys would ride to school on their camels, donkeys and goats. These
schools were larger versions of the home units and for every 100
students, there was one turban-wearing teacher who taught the boys
rudimentary math (to count the flock) and reading. Girls and women
at home, in black burkas, making bread and taking care of 10-12

The Truth: Iraqis lived in houses with running water and electricity.
Thousands of them own computers. Millions own VCRs and VCDs. Iraq has
sophisticated bridges, recreational centers, clubs, restaurants,
shops, universities, schools, etc. Iraqis love fast cars (especially
German cars) and the Tigris is full of little motorboats that are
for everything from fishing to water-skiing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that most people choose to ignore
the little prefix ‘re’ in the words ‘rebuild’ and ‘reconstruct’. For
your information, ‘re’ is of Latin origin and generally means ‘again’
or ‘anew’.

In other words, there was something there in the first place. We have
hundreds of bridges. We have one of the most sophisticated network of
highways in the region: you can get from Busrah, in the south, to
Mosul, in the north, without once having to travel upon those little,
dusty, dirt roads they show you on Fox News. We had a communications
system so advanced, it took the Coalition of the Willing three rounds
of bombing, on three separate nights, to damage the Ma’moun
Communications Tower and silence our telephones.

Yesterday, I read how it was going to take up to $90 billion to
rebuild Iraq. Bremer was shooting out numbers about how much it was
going to cost to replace buildings and bridges and electricity, etc.

Listen to this little anecdote. One of my cousins works in a
prominent engineering company in Baghdad – we’ll call the company H.
This company is well known for designing and building bridges all
Iraq. My cousin, a structural engineer, is a bridge freak. He spends
hours talking about pillars and trusses and steel structures to
who’ll listen.

As May was drawing to a close, his manager told him that someone from
the CPA [Coalition Provisional Authority] wanted the company to
estimate the building costs of replacing the New Diyala Bridge on the
South East end of Baghdad. He got his team together, they went out
assessed the damage, decided it wasn’t too extensive, but it would be
costly. 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
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 million!

Something you should know about Iraq: we have over 130,000 engineers.
More than half of these engineers are structural engineers and
architects. Thousands of them were trained outside of Iraq in
Japan, America, Britain and other countries. Thousands of others
worked with some of the foreign companies that built various bridges,
buildings and highways in Iraq. The majority of them are more than
proficient - some of them are brilliant.

Iraqi engineers had to rebuild Iraq after the first Gulf War in 1991
when the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ was composed of over 30 countries
actively participating in bombing Baghdad beyond recognition. They
to cope with rebuilding bridges and buildings that were originally
built by foreign companies, they had to get around a lack of raw
materials that we used to import from abroad, they had to work around
a vicious blockade designed to damage whatever infrastructure was
after the war – they truly had to rebuild Iraq. And everything had to
be made sturdy, because, well, we were always under the threat of

Over a hundred of the 133 bridges were rebuilt, hundreds of buildings
and factories were replaced, communications towers were rebuilt, new
bridges were added, electrical power grids were replaced… things were
functioning. Everything wasn’t perfect – but we were working on it.

And Iraqis aren’t easy to please. Buildings cannot just be made
functionary. They have to have artistic touches - a carved pillar, an
intricately designed dome, something unique… not necessarily classy
subtle, but different. You can see it all over Baghdad – fashionable
homes with plate glass windows, next to classic old ‘Baghdadi’
buildings, gaudy restaurants standing next to classy little cafes,
mosques with domes so colorful and detailed they look like glamorous
Faberge eggs – all done by Iraqis.

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
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
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 taken advantage of? Thousands of
people who have no work would love to be able to rebuild Iraq… no one
is being given a chance.

The reconstruction of Iraq is held above our heads like a promise and
a threat. People roll their eyes at reconstruction because they know
(Iraqis are wily) that these dubious reconstruction projects are
to plunge the country into a national debt only comparable to that of
America. A few already rich contractors are going to get richer,
workers are going to be given a pittance and the unemployed Iraqi
public can stand on the sidelines and look at the glamorous buildings
being built by foreign companies.

I always say this war is about oil. It is. But it is also about huge
corporations that are going to make billions off of reconstructing
what was damaged during this war. Can you say Halliburton? (Which, by
the way, got the very first contracts to replace the damaged oil
infrastructure and put out ‘oil fires’ way back in April.)

Well, of course it’s going to take uncountable billions to rebuild
Iraq, Mr. Bremer, if the contracts are all given to foreign
Or perhaps the numbers are this frightening because Ahmad Al-Chalabi
is the one doing the books – he is the math expert, after all.

Former exile and Pentagon favorite Ahmad Al-Chalabi was charged in
absentia for embezzling millions from a bank he operated in Jordan.
This entry of Girlblog was found at:

Mark Parkinson

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