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Thursday, December 11, 2003

Let Iraqis Rebuild Iraq

Iraq should be rebuilt by its own people


There are two stories being told about Iraq and its reconstruction. The first is how much money is being passed to the 63 member nations of the so-called Coalition of the Willing. Then there's another story, one not often told, about the reconstruction efforts (and contracts) taking place in Iraq right now.

So far, at least, only U.S. companies have been awarded Iraqi reconstruction contracts. Start with Halliburton and its subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown & Root, with contracts topping $2.3 billion.

A study by the Center for Public Integrity totals American contracts -- so far -- at some $8 billion for more than 70 U.S. companies and individuals in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Those companies donated more money to the presidential campaign of George W. Bush -- a little over $500,000 -- than to any other politician over the last dozen years," the center's study found. "Nearly 60 percent of the companies had employees or board members who either served in or had close ties to the executive branch for Republican and Democratic administrations, for members of Congress of both parties, or at the highest levels of the military."

The fix was in from the beginning. Halliburton's contract to deliver gasoline to Iraqi gas stations, for example, was let without even the pretense of competition.

Meanwhile, at a Baghdad job fair, hundreds of Iraqis showed up looking for work. The message from many was that the United States should make it easier for Iraqis to rebuild their own country.

Indeed, there's no reason why many basic services -- like hauling garbage -- cannot be set up as a service operated by Iraqis.

At the job fair, Ahmed Jassim al-Robaie, the owner of an Iraqi high-tech trading company, told The Associated Press that he didn't see the point. "They're only showing their products and marketing their products," he said. "Iraq has good trade and we're capable of trading. We should be giving courses to them."

That brings us to what ought to be rule No. 1 for the Iraqi reconstruction effort: Let Iraq rebuild Iraq. It would save money, put people to work and remove the foul sense that this war was somebody's campaign payoff.

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