The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]
Very much relevant to current discussion! =*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*=*= >Date: Mon, 29 Dec 2003 08:57:39 -0500 >Subject: [iac-disc.] Iraq reconstruction's bottom-line > > ><http://atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/EL25Ak05.html>http://atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/EL25Ak05.html > >Iraq reconstruction's bottom-line >By Herbert Docena > >BAGHDAD - Even if the occupation were working perfectly well, it would >still be wrong. This has become trite commentary among Iraqis who bitterly >want the occupation of their country to fail but, at the same time, also >earnestly hope that the reconstruction of their country succeeds. Still, >no matter how hard the occupiers try to make the reconstruction go right, >the US and its corporations still have no right staying here. > >No lights, no gas, no paychecks >At night, most of downtown Baghdad is still in darkness, with only the >blue and red police sirens lighting the streets and the only sound that of >intermittent gunfire puncturing the silence - definitely not a picture of >a festive, newly liberated capital. With most of Iraq suffering from power >interruptions lasting an average of 16 hours daily, it's a little hard to >party in the dark. How many US soldiers does it take to change a light >bulb? About 130,000 so far, but don't hold your breath. > >South of the city, a double-columned queue of cars up to three kilometers >in length snakes around street blocks and crosses a bridge over the >Tigris, before finally terminating at a barbed wired gasoline station >protected by a Humvee and an armored tank. Come closing time, so as not to >abandon the queue and line up all over again the following day, most of >the car owners decide to leave their vehicles parked overnight, in a >nightly vigil for gasoline in a country with the world's second-largest >reserves of oil. > >During the day, some of Iraq's 12 million unemployed hang out in front of >Checkpoint 3 of the Green Zone, the heavily fortified headquarters of the >Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The chances of an American >accepting their resumes is next to nil, but they come every day anyway. >Others try their luck loitering in the hotel lobbies, besieging >journalists or non-government workers in need of drivers and translators. > >With many unemployed former university professors, engineers and civil >servants choosing to become cab drivers instead, Baghdad probably has the >most educated taxi drivers per square kilometer in the world. Strike up a >conversation and the cabbies will most likely tell you what seems to have >become the conventional wisdom today: not even Saddam Hussein could have >screwed up this badly. > >Frustrated beyond belief >Not that they want him back, but neither could they have expected the >occupation forces to completely bungle such simple tasks as switching the >lights back on. The lack of power is most Iraqis' number one gripe, but >the list is long: uninstalled phone lines, shoddily repaired schools, >clogged roads, uncollected garbage, defective sewerage, a nonexistent >bureaucracy, mass unemployment and widespread poverty - the general chaos >that Iraq is still in today. > >Iraqis are in broad agreement that life is deteriorating rather than >improving. The prevailing sentiment is a complex mix of resentment and >resignation, frustration and incredulity. On the one hand, Iraqis feel >bitter about being occupied, and yet many are resigned to entrusting their >day-to-day survival to the hands of the Americans. On the other hand, they >could not quite believe how despite all the time and money, the world's >sole superpower can't make the reconstruction process go right. > >For it's part, the US says the Iraqis are expecting too much too soon. >"The bottleneck is sheer time," explained Ted Morse, the CPA's coordinator >for the Baghdad region. "Wherever you have had a true conflict situation, >there is an impatience in that people think it can be done immediately. It >cannot." > >But Iraqis themselves have showed that it can. In 1991, after the first >Gulf War and despite the United Nations-imposed sanctions, it took Iraq's >bureaucrats and engineers only three months to restore electricity back to >pre-war capacity, boasted Janan Behman, manager of Baghdad's Daura power >station. Now after almost nine months and despite the involvement of US >giant Bechtel, builders of the Hoover Dam and some of the world's biggest >engineering works, Iraq's power sector is still only producing less than >20 percent or 3,600 MW out of the 20,000 MW required. A daily power >interruption of two to three hours would be acceptable after nine months, >but 16 hours? > >It's the stupidity, stupid >The occupation forces would not admit this, of course, but much of the >problem could be attributed to the successful efforts of the resistance to >ensure that nothing works as long as an illegal occupation stays in place. >The resistance has kept the authorities too busy dodging bombs to spare >time for such trifling matters as providing Iraqis with jobs. With the >resistance targeting not just combatants but also those profiting from the >occupation, it's a little too much to expect contractors to go out of >their tightly guarded bubbles and move around. > >Bechtel employees, for example, only travel in military helicopters or >armed convoys with at least one designated "shooter" in every vehicle. (1) >Now unless they find a way of transporting the power plants to the trailer >camps where Bechtel employees live - averse as they are from going to the >plants themselves - nothing much would really get done. > >A lot of the mess could also be attributed to the sheer incompetence and >lack of experience of the people running Iraq. Much has been said about >how the administrators housed in the Green Zone have little or no >experience whatsoever in public administration. There have also been >various reports about the confusion and lack of coordination among the >different agencies involved. Moreover, as in previous colonial >administrations, it is often difficult to entice the best and the >brightest to pack up, leave everything behind, relocate to some far-flung >hardship post, only to be welcomed with guns. > >Hiding the moon >But insecurity and incompetence, while part of the complete and complex >picture, do not go far enough in explaining why the reconstruction effort >has so far been an evident failure. > >First, while only 1 percent of those surveyed in a recent Gallup poll buy >the line that the US came to establish democracy, the majority of the >Iraqis are not actively fighting the occupation. While the resistance is >growing, this is not an intifada yet. While a mere 6 percent of those >surveyed believe the US is here to help (2), Iraqis who are in a position >to assist in the reconstruction effort actually want to make it work, not >so much to prop up the occupying forces, they say, but to ensure that oil >and electricity are kept available. Iraqis may not necessarily like the >Americans, but they would sure like some hot water in the morning this winter. > >"If this is the system, then I have to follow," said Dathar al-Khshab, >general director of the Daura oil refinery. It's the only way to keep >things moving, then so be it, he said, echoing other utilities managers. >Rank and file oil industry workers are likewise hesitant to shut down the >refineries as a bargaining chip for negotiations and as a tactic to >undermine the occupation. On the one hand, they know that this could >paralyze the Americans. On the other, they are afraid of its effect on the >Iraqi people. But asked whether they support the coalition forces, Hassan >Jum'a, leader of the Southern Oil Company union, was firm: "You can't hide >the moon. Every honest Iraqi should refuse the occupation." > >Keeping a dog hungry >The charge of incompetence is not completely convincing either because, >for all the allegations of unfair competition and shadowy connections, it >would be difficult to accuse Bechtel or Halliburton of not knowing what >they are doing. > >With projects scattered all over the globe, Bechtel is one of the world's >biggest construction firms and it has achieved some of history's most >awesome engineering feats. Halliburton, on the other hand, has been >repairing oil wells and refineries around the world for decades. Even >Iraqi officials readily acknowledge that, technically speaking, they >should be in good hands with these American contractors. As the grudging >respect gradually gives way to disappointment, Iraqis are even more >baffled as to how these corporations could fail their expectations. > >Another popular explanation making the rounds alleges that sabotaging the >reconstruction is a conscious and deliberate effort on the part of the >occupation forces to make the Iraqis completely dependent and subservient. >Keeping a dog hungry not only keeps it from barking, it also makes the dog >follow its master anywhere. > >The problem with this theory is that due to the relatively decentralized >reconstruction process involving dozens of contractors and >sub-contractors, an explicit order for deliberate failure would have been >almost impossible to secretly enforce. Moreover, faced with a mounting >resistance, this tactic could be extremely risky because it undermines the >effort to "win hearts and minds". Keeping a dog hungry could also turn it >desperate and rabid. > >The answer to the mystery of why the reconstruction has so far been >botched could be less sinister. > >Made in the USA >A clue lies at the Najibiya power station in Basra, Iraq's second largest >city located south of Baghdad. Sitting uninstalled between two decrepit >turbines were massive brand new air-conditioning units shipped all the way >from York Corporation in Oklahoma. Pasted on one side of each unit was a >glittering sticker proudly displaying the "Made in USA" sign, complete >with the Stars and Stripes. > >It's just what the Iraqis don't need at this time. Since May, Yaarub >Jasim, general director for the southern region of Iraq's electricity >ministry, has been pleading with Bechtel to deliver urgently needed spare >parts for their antiquated turbines. "We asked Bechtel many times to >please help us because the demand for power is very high and we should >cover this demand," Jasim said. "We asked many times, many times." > >Two weeks ago, Bechtel finally came through. Before it could deliver any >of Jasim's requirements, however, Bechtel transported the >air-conditioners, useless until the start of summer six months from now. > >But even if the air-con units become eventually useful, emphasized plant >manager Hamad Salem, other spare parts were much more important. The >air-conditioners, Salem pointed out, were not even in the list of the >equipment and machine components that they submitted to Bechtel. > >No Stars and Stripes >Ideally, said Jasim, it would be best to get the spare parts from the >companies that originally built the turbines because they would be more >readily available and more suitable for their technology. Unfortunately, >Jasim pointed out, Iraq's generators happened to have been provided by >companies from France, Russia and Germany, the very countries banned by >the Pentagon from getting contracts in Iraq, as well as Japan. On >inspection, it was clear that the turbines don't carry the Stars and >Stripes logo. The dilapidated turbines in Najibiya, for example, still >bore "Made in USSR" plates. > >Why then have the required components not been delivered? Jasim replied >dismissively, as though the answer was self-evident: "Because no other >company has been allowed by the US government, only Bechtel." > >Unlike those among the other banned corporations, Bechtel carries the >requisite brand. Since its founding, Bechtel's officials have had a long >and very cozy relationship with and within the state now disbursing the >billion-dollar contracts. For example, Bechtel board member George Schultz >was former treasury secretary to Richard Nixon, secretary of state to >Ronald Reagan, and coincidentally enough, chairman of the advisory board >of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Also once included on >Bechtel's payroll were former Central Intelligence Agency chief John >McCone, former defense secretary Casper Weinberger and former North >Atlantic Treaty Organization supreme allied commander Jack Sheehan. > >Grand business plans >Awaiting urgent rehabilitation, Iraq's French, Russian, German and >Japanese-made power infrastructure is slowly disintegrating. At the >station, workers are trying to make full use of the turbines by cooking >pots of rice on the surface of the rusting hot pipes. If the stations are >not rehabilitated any time soon, repairs will no longer be enough to keep >them running, warned Jasim. > >To finally end Iraq's crippling power shortage and to ensure that the >turbines are not completely degraded, Bechtel should either quickly >manufacture the required spare parts itself, a very long and very costly >process, buy the spare parts from the Russian company directly, or hire >the Russian firm as a sub-contractor. That, or they just allow the >crumbling turbines to turn completely useless. Then they bid for building >new billion-dollar power generators themselves. > >Incidentally, part of Bechtel's contract includes making "road maps for >future longer term needs and investments". In other words, Bechtel is >currently being paid to determine what the Iraqis will "need" to buy in >the future, using the Iraqi and US taxpayers' money. According to >independent estimates, Bechtel stands to get up to US$20 billion worth of >reconstruction contracts in the next few years. (3) > >If Bechtel has grander plans for Iraq's power sector, however, their >officers are not telling the Iraqis. The utilities managers interviewed >said they are not being consulted at all regarding Iraq's strategic energy >plans. Bechtel officials don't even bother to explain what's taking them >so long to deliver the parts they need. "They just collect papers," said >Jasim, head of Iraq's southern district oil ministry. > >An incentive to fail >Iraq's power sector problem is illustrative of the bigger pattern. Iraqis >spend up to five hours lining up for gasoline not only because of the >sabotage of pipelines but also because there's limited electricity to run >oil refineries that are crying for quicker action from Kellogg, Brown & >Root (KBR), the Halliburton subsidiary and contractor for rehabilitating >the oil infrastructure. According to workers from the South Oil Company in >Basra, which KBR is obliged to rehabilitate, they are not aware of any >repairs KBR has actually undertaken. > >With Iraq's oil refineries still awaiting rehabilitation, Iraq cannot >refine enough crude oil to meet domestic consumption. The US is instead >exporting Iraq's crude oil and employing KBR under a no-bid >cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to import gasoline from neighboring Turkey >and Kuwait. > >Last week, an official Pentagon investigation revealed that KBR is >charging the US government more than twice what others are paying for >imported gasoline. What was left unsaid, however, is the conflict of >interest inherent in hiring KBR for both the oil infrastructure >reconstruction and the oil importation. If Iraq's pipelines and refineries >were suddenly fully functional and Iraq was able to produce all the oil it >needed, it would be the end of KBR's lucrative oil-importing business. > >There has been no evidence that KBR is deliberately delaying the repair of >the refineries, only that there is an obvious disincentive to speed things >up. There is a serious but overlooked clash of incentives when the same >company tasked to revive the oil industry is simultaneously making money >from a condition in which that industry stays in tatters. > >No money at all? >Just outside the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters, a small >unorganized group of employees of the former regime gathered and unfurled >their banner: "We need our salaries now." They were demanding 10 months' >worth of back wages. "We thank you because you saved our lives from >Saddam. But we want to live so you should help us," their unofficial >spokesperson Karim Hassin said indignantly, addressing the unresponsive >10-foot high wall protecting the compound. "Paul Bremer [CPA head] >promised us salaries. We heard it with our own ears. What happened to >these promises?" > >A day after that the Pentagon's investigation on KBR was publicized, 300 >soldiers walked out of the US-created 700-member New Iraqi Army, decrying >unreasonably low wages. Most of the deserters were recruited from Saddam's >former army, but for only US$50 a month they had decided to transfer their >allegiance to the occupation forces. > >Trained by the military contractor Vinnell Corporation, their only demand >from their new masters was a raise in pay to $120 a month. That would have >amounted to a monthly increase in spending of only $49,000, small change >beside the US's $4 billion monthly military spending in Iraq and a >minuscule amount compared to the $61 million in overcharges by KBR, >revealed by the Pentagon auditors. > >Hearing about all these developments, it would appear that the occupation >forces have come to liberate Iraq on a really tight budget. The common >refrain of the Iraqis who have chosen to work with the US-installed >bureaucracy is that there is no quid pro quo. Pressed to explain the >failure of his ministry to significantly increase power, for example, >Iraq's electricity chief, Ayhem al-Samaraie, grudgingly admitted: "I have >no money in my ministry at all." > >Indeed, a quick visual survey of Baghdad from the dirty streets, the aging >machines and the raging workers to the unbelievably long lines for >gasoline, makes this explanation for Iraq's reconstruction problems sound >almost convincing. That the reconstruction effort is in shambles because >there is no money almost seems plausible. > >None for Iraq, billions for Bechtel >But it isn't. Last November, the US Congress eventually passed George W >Bush's $87 billion request for Iraq with no fuss. Before that, the US had >already spent $79 billion on both Iraq and Afghanistan. On top of this, >the US also has complete control of the UN-authorized Development Fund for >Iraq (DFI) which contains all of the former government's assets as well as >past and future revenues from Iraq's oil exports, including leftover funds >from the UN Oil for Food Program. > >By the end of the year, the DFI would have given the occupation forces >access to a total of $10 billion in disposable funds. (4) Though control >would be less direct, the occupation forces can also tap a few more >billions from the estimated $13 billion grants and loans raised during the >Madrid donors' conference on Iraq last October. > >On paper, the amount that will be paid to contractors like Bechtel will >come from US taxpayers' money. In practice, however, all that is being >spent on Iraq's reconstruction is mixed in a pot containing the US's and >other coalition-member countries' grants, plus the Iraqis' own funds. > >So there's money; it's just not going around. And here perhaps lies the >solution to the mystery of how the world's superpower and the world's >biggest corporations can't even begin to put Iraq together again after >almost nine months: The reconstruction is less about reconstruction than >about making the most money possible. > >Firms like Raytheon, Boeing and Northrop Gruman will get their fair share >of the $4 billion that the US is spending monthly on military expenses in >Iraq; but there will not be an extra dime for the New Iraqi Army recruits. >Bechtel's useless Oklahoma-made air-conditioners will be paid for under >the $680 million no-bid contract; but there will be no money for the >sorely needed Russian-made components for Najibiya's turbines. Halliburton >and its sub-contractors creamed off $61 million importing oil from Kuwait; >but there will be no pay rise for Iraq's oil refinery workers. > >While the US finds it increasingly hard to raise funds for the occupation, >there is still enough money for the most critical aspects of the >reconstruction. Those profiting from it, however, are determined to keep >the biggest share possible to themselves. The bottom-line of the >reconstruction mess is the bottom-line: little gets done because >contractors cannot see beyond the dollar sign. > >The business of making money >"The profit motive is what brings companies to dangerous locations. But >that is what capitalism is all about," Richard Dowling, spokesperson of >the US Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that contracted Kellogg, Brown >& Root, explained. "If it takes profit to motivate an organization to take >on a tough job, we can live with that. Yes, there's a profit motive but >the result is the job gets done." >The problem is, as evidenced most clearly by the case of Bechtel and KBR, >the job is not even getting half-done. Profit-maximization has not >resulted in the most efficient restoration of power and oil production >possible. On the contrary, it gets in the way of doing things right. The >power plants will eventually be built and the oil refineries will run >again, but not after unnecessary deprivation of the Iraqis and not after >Bechtel has made the most of the opportunity. > >This war to liberate Iraq was never about liberating the Iraqis. >Unsurprisingly then, the reconstruction effort is also not about >reconstruction. In this occupation, the US and its allies' primary goal is >not to rebuild what they have destroyed; it's to make a fast buck. >Contractors like Bechtel and KBR are assured of getting paid no matter >what; that the power plants will eventually be constructed is just >incidental. They will be built in order to justify the pretext for the >profit-making: that a war had to be waged and that everything that was >destroyed now has to be rebuilt. > >As Stephen Bechtel, the company's founder, once made clear, "We are not in >the construction and engineering business. We are in the business of >making money." Billed as the biggest rebuilding effort since World War II, >the reconstruction of Iraq is expected to cost $100 billion, some even say >$200 billion. For the post-war contractors, this is not a reconstruction >business; it is a hundred-billion-dollar bonanza. > >Not even trying >The US and its contractors are not even trying, for a simple reason: it's >not the point. To assume that they are striving, but are merely failing >because of factors beyond their control, is to presuppose that there is an >earnest effort to succeed. There isn't. If there were, there should have >been a coherent plan and process in which the welfare of the Iraqis - and >not of the corporations - actually comes first. Instead, the Iraqis' need >for electricity comes after Bechtel's need for billion-dollar projects. >The Iraqis' need for decent living wages becomes relevant only after >Halliburton has maximized its profits. > >Indeed, if there were a sincere attempt to succeed, the US, as the >responsible occupying power, should have had no qualms giving Iraqis what >many emphatically say they need to finally make things work: the authority >and the resources. "If only the money and spare parts were provided," >electricity official Jasim said, "we could do a surgical operation." "If >I'm going to do it without KBR, I can do it," said al-Khshab. "We have >been doing this for the past 30 years without KBR. Give me the money and >give me the proper authority and I'll do it." But the US won't because who >knows what the Iraqis would do? Ask the Russians to repair their power >plants? Actually succeed in reconstructing their country without the >involvement of Bechtel and Halliburton? > >The US taxpayers are not parting with billions of dollars of their >hard-earned pay to give away to some lucky Russian firm. US and coalition >soldiers are not sacrificing their lives to protect the wussy French. The >US did not liberate Iraq in order to let the long disempowered Iraqis >rebuild their own country. > >As the reconstruction process continues to disillusion Iraqis, the myth >that the US is here to help is also steadily collapsing. With no light, no >gasoline and no paychecks, more and more Iraqis are no longer just cursing >the darkness. "If you want to live in peace, Americans, give us our >salary," warned Hassim, the Iraqi protesting at the gates of the Coalition >Provisional Authority. "If you do not, next time we'll come back with >weapons." > >Notes > >(1) Steve Schifferes, "The challenge of rebuilding Iraq", BBC News October >21, 2003. > >(2) Walter Pincus, "Skepticism about US deep, Iraq poll shows", Washington >Post, November 12, 2003. > >(3) Elizabeth Becker, "Companies from all over seek a piece of action >rebuilding Iraq", New York Times, May 21, 2003. > >(4) Christian Aid, "Iraq: The missing billions: Transition and >transparency in post-war Iraq". Briefing paper for the Madrid donors' >conference, October 23-24, 2003. > >Herbert Docena firstname.lastname@example.org is with Focus on the Global South. He >was in Baghdad for the Iraq International Occupation Watch Center. > >(Copyright 2003 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact ><mailto:email@example.com>firstname.lastname@example.org for information on our sales >and syndication policies.) > > >------------------------------------------------- >*** Iraq Action Coalition Discussion Forum *** > ><http://iraqaction.org/discussion.html>http://iraqaction.org/discussion.html _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk