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February 16, 2006
And a good time was had by....

Contractors? In Iraq, that is. Baghdad Embassy Bonanza

A controversial Kuwait-based construction firm accused of exploiting employees and coercing low-paid laborers to work in war-torn Iraq is now building the new $592-million U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Once completed, the compound will likely be the biggest, most fortified diplomatic compound in the world.

Some 900 workers live and work for First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting (FKTC) on the construction site of the massive project. Undoubtedly, they have been largely pulled from ranks of low-paid laborers flooding into Iraq from Asia's poorest countries to work under U.S. military and reconstruction projects.

I never know what to say about these things. On the one hand, it's good that non-USA countries are getting some of the work in Iraq, especially other Middle Eastern countries. On the other hand....

So, I read further.

American contractors witnessing the plight of some of these migrants at military camps around Iraq have openly complained that the Asians endure abysmal working conditions, live in cramped housing, eat poor food, and lack satisfactory medical care and safety gear.

FKTC, I should mention, has the contract to construct the new USofA embassy in Iraq, courtesy of subcontracting to...wait for it...Halliburton!

Indeed, the massive $592-million project may be the most lasting monument to the U.S. occupation in the war-torn nation. Located on a on a 104-acre site on the Tigris river where U.S. and coalition authorities are headquartered, the high-tech palatial compound is envisioned as a totally self-sustaining cluster of 21 buildings reinforced to 2.5 times usual standards. Some walls as said to be 15 feet thick or more. Scheduled for completion by June 2007, the installation is touted as not only the largest, but the most secure diplomatic embassy in the world.

That's not an embassy. It's a fortress.

Unlike most of Iraq's reconstruction, the embassy is "on time and on budget," according to a December report to U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee which calls the progress an "impressive" feat given that construction is taking place in a country besieged by war.

I'm sure the Iraqis would agree that building us a new fortified castle embassy is more important than rebuilding their country.

Although White House had signaled Congress in early 2004 that it was planning a permanent embassy in Baghdad, it wasn't until spring 2005 that the Bush Administration formally pushed the funding request veiled as an emergency measure. The original proposal for $1.3 billion was almost three times the price of the new embassy in China.

Reeling from overcharges and costs around other Iraq contracts, Congress immediately cut the price tag for the new Baghdad project in half to $592 million and called for strict oversight. Wired with the most up-to-date technology and surveillance equipment, it will still be a super-bunker and the biggest US embassy every built.

Once funding was secured last spring, the U.S. State Department quietly put the project up for competition among seven competitors including some of the most accomplished US engineering companies. Among the bidders, Framaco, Parsons, Fluor, and the Sandi Group have established track records for building secure embassies or large-scale construction projects.

But the award went to First Kuwaiti, a company with little experience in projects on the scale envisioned for the embassy.

"First Kuwaiti got the embassy job. [It] kinda surprised everyone that a foreign company would win," said an executive of one prominent firm in an email to another, both of whom bid against First Kuwaiti.

But publicly, the losing companies simply shrugged their shoulders and buttoned their lips.

"First Kuwaiti was the lowest bidder," said Gilles Kacha, senior vice president of Framaco. The New York-based firm won a "contractor of the year award" from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for its work on the interim Baghdad embassy, but lost in the competition for the new compound."

Snif. Snif. Something smell funny to you?

And, hey! Aren't we about to declare war or something on Iran? I mean, the Feds are asking for money to "export Democracy." Isn't that how we announce an incipient war?

Posted by AnneZook at 05:52 PM