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Wasting Money In Iraq

A water plant in Iraq. The technical knowledge and expertise of the Iraqi engineer has been questioned, without reason. The claim that major projects lie outside the scope of the skill for an Iraqi engineer is ridiculous. Photo courtesy AFP.
By Richard May
UPI Outside View Commentator
Washington (UPI) Apr 12, 2007
The United States is in its fifth year of war in Iraq with little hope for success. There are several reasons why Iraq evolved into the quagmire that it is today. Expedited elections entrenched sectarian and ethnic divisions, the U.S. military was unable to provide security, and coalition forces were unable to maintain the trust of the local national population, along with many other reasons.

One of the oft-overlooked contributing factors for the declining situation is the diminutive role of the Iraqi population in its own reconstruction and relief operations. The United States has been conducting these operations in order to help stabilize the country, but even with $22 billion allotted to reconstruction, stability and security have remained elusive. So where has this money gone?

According to the U.S. State Department, the majority of all contracts for Iraqi reconstruction and relief operations have gone to U.S. companies. These U.S. companies bring guest workers from other neighboring countries or subcontract to local Iraqi contractors to complete the tasks that they are expected to accomplish.

While the intentions of the U.S. companies in Iraq are noble, the negative impact of this is that the profits from these contracts are being extracted from Iraq. By bringing in guest workers, long-term employment options for Iraqis are undermined, worsening the economic situation in Iraq. By subcontracting to Iraqi companies, a culture of dependency is developed where Iraqis are paid low wages and are subservient to U.S. companies, atrophying economic development and growth.

Why have these contracts not been awarded to Iraqi contractors? Why has the United States decided to contract to U.S.-based companies and then subcontract to local contractors and businesses? Common answers are that Iraqis lack the technical knowledge; the lack of logistical infrastructure inhibits the abilities of Iraqi contractors, and the security threat is prohibitive. Under scrutiny, these arguments don't hold true.

The technical knowledge and expertise of the Iraqi engineer has been questioned, without reason. The claim that major projects lie outside the scope of the skill for an Iraqi engineer is ridiculous.

A Harvard study in 1991 found that at the conclusion of the first Gulf War, Iraq had only 4 percent of its pre-war power wattage. Within four months, Iraqi engineers, under sanctions, were able to rehabilitate power production to two-thirds of the pre-war level, or 6,000 megawatts. This is in comparison to the current power output in Iraq of 4,200 megawatt hours, as reported by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Furthermore, if the Iraqis lack technical knowledge, then how did they ever become such a threat to the United States that it was worth an invasion? Iraq was a modern country in every sense of the word. They had dams, roads, communications networks and hospitals. According to U.S. companies, this country, which was a regional power only a few years ago, has now become a place that lacks the skill to build a road.

In Iraq, the lack of infrastructure has become an impediment to economic expansion and does hinder the ability of Iraqis to conduct engineering projects of a large scale.

Even with this roadblock, the focus should not be on extra-state actors as the solution. Instead, the United States should contract with Iraqi companies and allow U.S. companies to provide logistical support to the Iraqis. This will build enduring logistical infrastructure within Iraq instead of the temporary logistics networks the U.S. companies build.

So while the logistical infrastructure of Iraq is an impediment, it should be fixed instead of bypassed. By continuing to use U.S. companies for logistical support, the United States is creating a culture of dependency in Iraq.

The security environment in Iraq is a major area of concern. Daily attacks threaten coalition troops, contractors and the local population. The enemy that conducts these attacks is indistinguishable from any other Iraqi citizen.

These unidentifiable threats are another reason that the United States has chosen to use U.S. companies for reconstruction operations over local nationals. In reality, this policy is counterproductive for security in Iraq.

Coalition forces and Iraqis need to be working together as much as possible to build trust in one another, as evidenced by the current decentralization of U.S. forces by Gen. David Petraeus.

By contracting with Iraqi companies, the United States will be building a stronger relationship that will build trust, respect and confidence in Iraqis. Furthermore, if Iraqis are such a security threat, then why do U.S. companies subcontract their work out to Iraqi contractors? Obviously, Iraqis are not that much of a threat -- when they are subordinate to U.S. companies that is.

The image of the Iraqi as incompetent, unreliable and threatening is a constructed reality that endangers the future of Iraqi independence. U.S. companies are creating a culture of dependency in Iraq that will atrophy infrastructure and business development. The excuses that U.S. companies and the U.S. government give for not contracting with Iraqis are the moral equivalent of the white man's burden excuses given during colonialism.

We must end this practice now and stop employing exploitative contracting and instead help the Iraqis to take the lead in the rebuilding of their country. Having Iraqis rebuild their own country will result not only in visible infrastructure but the reconstruction of the Iraqi spirit and future.

(Richard May served as an officer in the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is currently the Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the World Security Institute's Center for Defense Information.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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Related Links
Iraq: The first technology war of the 21st century

No Solid Stats On Iraq Security
Washington (UPI) April 11, 2007
The size, strength and capability of Iraqi security forces remain an enigma, with neither the Pentagon nor the Iraqi government able to offer any solid information. That much was clear from a panel of experts who testified before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations about the current state of Iraq's security forces.







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