With Ali al-Fadhily
BAGHDAD - The decision of the giant engineering company Bechtel to withdraw
from Iraq has left many Iraqis feeling betrayed. In its departure they see the
end of remaining hopes for the reconstruction of Iraq.
"It is much worse than in the time of Saddam Hussein," Communist
Party member Nayif Jassim told IPS. "Most Iraqis wish Saddam would be back
in power now that they lived out the hardships of the occupation. The Americans
did nothing but loot our oil and kill our people."
Bechtel, whose board members have close ties to the Bush administration, announced
last week that it was done with trying to operate in the war-torn country. The
company has received $2.3 billion of Iraqi reconstruction funds and U.S. taxpayer
money, but is leaving without completing most of the tasks it set out to.
On every level of infrastructure measurable, the situation in Iraq is worse
now than under the rule of Saddam Hussein. That includes the 12 years of economic
sanctions since the first Gulf War in 1991, a period that former UN humanitarian
coordinator for Iraq Dennis Halliday described as "genocidal" for
The average household in Iraq now gets two hours of electricity a day. There
is 70 percent unemployment, 68 percent of Iraqis have no access to safe drinking
water, and only 19 percent have sewage access. Not even oil production has matched
The security situation is hellish, with a recent study published in the prestigious
British medical journal Lancet estimating 655,000 excess deaths in Iraq
as a result of the invasion and occupation.
The group Medact recently said that easily treatable conditions such as diarrhea
and respiratory illness are causing 70 percent of all child deaths, and that
"of the 180 health clinics the U.S. hoped to build by the end of 2005,
only four have been completed and none opened."
A proposed $200 million project to build 142 primary care centers ran out of
cash after building just 20 clinics, a performance that the World Health Organization
described as "shocking."
Iraqis are complaining louder now than under the sanctions. Lack of electricity
has led to increasing demand for gasoline to run generators. And gasoline is
among the most scarce commodities in this oil-rich country.
"We inherited an exhausted electricity system in generating stations and
distributing nets, but we were able to supply 50 percent of consumer demand
during heavy load periods, and more than that during ordinary days," an
engineer with the Ministry of Electricity told IPS.
"The situation now is much worse, and it seems not to be improving despite
the huge contracts signed with American companies. It is strange how billions
of dollars spent on electricity brought no improvement whatsoever, but in fact
worsened the situation."
The engineer said "we in the ministry have not received any real equipment
for our senior stations, and the small transformers for the distributing nets
were of very low standard."
Bechtel's contract included reconstruction of water treatment systems, electricity
plants, sewage systems, airports, and roads.
Two former Iraqi ministers of electricity were charged with corruption by the
Iraqi Commission of Integrity set up under the occupation. One of them, Ayham
al-Samarraii, was sentenced to jail but was taken away by his U.S. security
guards. He insisted that it was not he who looted the ministry's money.
Managers at water departments all over Iraq say that the only repairs they
managed were through UN offices and humanitarian aid organizations. The ministry
provided them with very little chlorine for water treatment. New projects were
no more than simple maintenance moves that did little to halt collapsing infrastructure.
Bechtel was among the first companies, along with Halliburton, where U.S. Vice
President Dick Cheney once worked, to have received fixed-fee contracts drawn
to guarantee profit.
Ahmed al-Ani who works with a major Iraqi construction contracting company
says the model Bechtel adopted was certain to fail.
"They charged huge sums of money for the contracts they signed, then they
sold them to smaller companies who resold them again to small inexperienced
Iraqi contractors," Ani told IPS. "These inexperienced contractors
then had to execute the works badly because of the very low prices they get,
and the lack of experience."
Some Iraqi political analysts, rather optimistically, look at Bechtel's departure
from a different angle.
"I see the beginning of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq," Maki al-Nazzal
told IPS. "It started with Bechtel and Halliburton's propaganda, and might
end with their escape from the field. They came with Bremer and introduced themselves
as heroes and saviors who would bring prosperity to Iraq, but all they did was
market U.S. propaganda."
U.S. President George W. Bush told reporters on a visit to Iraq last June:
"You can measure progress in megawatts of electricity delivered. You can
measure progress in terms of oil sold on the market on behalf of the Iraqi people."
By his standards, the position in Iraq is now much worse.
(Inter Press Service)