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IRAQ: Bechtel to rebuild Iraq

The San Francisco Chronicle (18/4/03) had a front-page banner headline BECHTEL TO REBUILD IRAQ/RECONSTRUCTION: POLITICALLY CONNECTED S.F. FIRM WINS BID. For complete text, see:

"Bechtel Corp., the San Francisco construction giant known for its global reach and high-powered political connections, won a contract worth up to $680 million to rebuild Iraqi roads, schools, sewers and hospitals damaged in the war. The contract, sought by the nation's largest construction firms, places Bechtel squarely in the middle of U.S. efforts to reshape Iraq. he company will repair Iraq's waterworks, its electrical grid and its sewage systems. Bechtel also may dredge the seaport of Umm Qasr -- gateway for food and medical supplies flowing into the country -- as well as repair Iraq's airports.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, in charge of picking companies for Iraq's reconstruction, offered few details of why it chose Bechtel. The selection process, which was cloaked in secrecy because of national security concerns and which was open only to U.S.companies that were invited to bid by the government, angered critics in Congress and abroad. Bechtel, however, pointed to its 60-year history building pipelines, airports and oil sites in the Middle East as credentials for the job. The company has roughly 1,000 people stationed in the region. "Bechtel is honored to have been asked by USAID to help bring humanitarian assistance, economic recovery and infrastructure reconstruction to the Iraqi people," Tom Hash, president of Bechtel National, said in a prepared statement . "We will now begin meeting with USAID to start detailed planning on this important effort."

Although the company offered few details of its plans, spokesman Michael Kidder said Bechtel was meeting with USAID to prioritize the work,determining which of the many tasks had to be handled first. The firm then will seek subcontractors to help, a process Kidder said would be open to companies from other nations. American taxpayers will pay for the initial costs of the contract, but Iraqi oil revenue may eventually pay for much of the reconstruction.

Bechtel's decision to bid for the contract turned the company's Beale Street headquarters into a flash point for protests in recent weeks. Demonstrators repeatedly tried to block the building's entrance, saying Bechtel wanted to make money from war. "They use the word reconstruction," said Patrick Reinsborough, an organizer with Direct Action to Stop the War. "To us, this appears much more a second invasion of Iraq, a carving up of the country by U.S. corporations." The government's process of picking companies to rebuild Iraq drew its own protests. Foreign firms resented being shut out. Government watchdogs noted that all six of the companies bidding on the contract Bechtel won donated heavily to American politicians -- $3.6 million between 1999 and 2002, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Most of the money went to Republicans. Bechtel and its employees contributed $1.3 million to federal campaigns and candidates over the past three years, with 59 percent going to Republicans and the rest to Democrats.

The reconstruction contract bidders had powerful friends. Bechtel's corporate board includes George Shultz, secretary of state during the Reagan administration. Riley Bechtel, the firm's chairman and chief executive, was recently appointed to President Bush's export council. Caspar Weinberger was a Bechtel director, vice president and general counsel before become Reagan's secretary of defense in 1980".

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Naturally there is much local satisfaction that Bechtel has brought home the bacon. Need it be stressed that this is not the military-industrial complex at work. It is for the reconstruction of buildings and facilities destroyed by the bombing during the war. Moreover, the $680 million does not compare with the $200 billion Lockheed may get for military work. It is puzzling that some people deny or belittle the existence of the military-industrial complex.

Ronald Hilton - 4/18/03