Thursday, August 28, 2003

Did you think Halliburton was doing well in Iraq reconstruction? You didn't know the half of it:

Halliburton, the company formerly headed by Vice President Cheney, has won contracts worth more than $1.7 billion under Operation Iraqi Freedom and stands to make hundreds of millions more dollars under a no-bid contract awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to newly available documents.

A significant chunk of that money may well wind up in the pockets of their ex-CEO, Dick Cheney, who is still receiving very substantial "deferred compensation" from Halliburton. And it's not the only well-connected contractor which has a direct pipeline to the United States Treasury; others include

  • Dyncorp, the private policing firm whose record of human rights abuses apparently doesn't disqualify it from training the new Iraqi police.
  • Bechtel, the giant contractor whose cost overruns on the Big Dig project are well known to us Bostonians. (The billions of Big Dig overruns include some howlers. In one particularly memorable gaffe, they drew plans which put a highway overpass over an empty lot, and then had to spend $1 million redrawing them when someone noticed that the "vacant lot" was actually the site of a brand new sports arena.
  • And of course, the many oil companies which Dubya has immunized by executive order from any legal liability concerning whatever they do with Iraqi oil.

Given the sheer volume of these shadowy, often no-bid contracts, you might wonder how well our money is being spent. Iraqi blogger Riverbend is wondering herself:

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 over Iraq. My cousin, a structural engineer, is a bridge freak. He spends hours talking about pillars and trusses and steel structures to anyone who'll listen.

As May was drawing to a close, his manager told him that someone from the CPA 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 and 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 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 !!

It's not about the oil. The oil money isn't enough to pay for all this stuff, which is why Bremer is asking for extra funding, from Congress or whoever else shows up at the October "donor's meeting".

But for some of the people involved in this exercise, a lot of their action, particularly the desire for the United States to retain final authority over command and contracts, is clearly about the boodle, and on a scale that makes Teapot Dome look like Travelgate.

WP link via Atrios.


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