Finally, a Contractor Worse Than Halliburton

Just when it seemed no contractor in Iraq could possibly eclipse (or
even equal) the venality and hutzpah of Halliburton, Glenn Kessler over
at the Washington Post unearthed First Kuwaiti General Trade and
Contracting Co.

Just when it seemed no contractor in Iraq could possibly eclipse (or
even equal) the venality and hutzpah of Halliburton, Glenn Kessler over
at the Washington Post unearthed First Kuwaiti General Trade and
Contracting Co.
If these dudes are first, one can but wonder what second might look
like. The cause célèbre is the American Embassy in Iraq and the
architect for this half-billion dollar luxury resort for American
diplomats is Berger Devine Yaeger. I looked up their web site to see
what are supposed to be the posted designs.
“Under Construction.” Does that bode well? This (according to Kessler’s brilliant investigative piece) from “a toughly worded cable sent from the embassy to State Department headquarters on May 29.”

main builder of the sprawling, 21-building embassy is First Kuwaiti
General Trade and Contracting Co., a Middle Eastern firm that is
already under Justice Department scrutiny over alleged labor abuses . .
. The first signs of trouble emerged when the kitchen staff tried to
cook the inaugural meal in the new guard base on May 15. Some
appliances did not work. Workers began to get electric shocks. Then a
burning smell enveloped the kitchen as the wiring began to melt.

At least it wasn’t Thanksgiving or the end of Ramadan, but damn, I hate when there’s a burning smell in the kitchen.

. . the electrical meltdown was just the first problem in a series of
construction mistakes that soon left the base uninhabitable, including
wiring problems, fuel leaks and noxious fumes in the sleeping trailers.

quality construction . . . life safety issues . . . left [the embassy]
with no recourse but to shut the camp down, in spite of the blistering
heat in Baghdad,” the May 29 cable informed Washington.

That’s the same blistering heat our foot patrols deal with on a daily
basis, but okay guys, back to the tents, it’s Meals Ready to Eat for a
while. Actually, there are a lot of Iraqis who would be delighted with
nothing more serious than a few smoking wires in their kitchens and
occasional fuel leaks. In those parts of Iraq that are not the Green Zone, there is only periodic and unreliable electric of any kind and fuel is something you risk your life to get. Not to mention American soldiers occasionally kicking in your door.
It’s hard to fault Kuwaiti General. They cut their contracting teeth
working for KBR, who owns Halliburton (or is it the other way around?)
and the U.S. Corps of Engineers, those wonderful folks who brought you
the New Orleans dikes. Who knew that using lower-than-spec materials wasn’t business as usual? The wire is in and billed, if it doesn’t actually light the bulb or run the stove, that’s your worry.
To add to the already confusing finger-pointing, just a couple of
American presidents ago, Iraq stuck their military finger in Kuwait’s
eye with a  surprise invasion. Even though it was Colin Powell who
pulled their nuts out of the fire (and this is an American project)
it’s dicey working in an invaders own country. Ask any Iraqi in America.
So, rather than actually do any work themselves, the Kuwaitis hired Saudis. Well, maybe not actually hired—kidnapped might be closer to the truth. They’re hard guys, these Arabs.

Kuwaiti’s labor practices are already under investigation by the
Justice Department amid allegations that foreign employees were brought
into Iraq under false pretenses — such as being told that they were to
work in Dubai — and then forbidden to leave because the company had
confiscated their passports. First Kuwaiti has called those accusations

Undocumented workers? Surely you jest.
Ludicrous or not, when you’re hired for and headed to Dubai, then
find yourself in an entirely different Green Zone, who can blame you
for wondering where your passport went? Ludicrous is not relevant. The
guy with a hammer in his hand and a First Kuwaiti patch on his pocket
either has a passport in that pocket or he doesn’t. Fortunately, there is American oversight. Unfortunately, that oversight is not working and the only person who will speak for the record is an administration official who was not authorized to speak for the record.
Was it ever otherwise?

The “fairly serious
problems” noted in the cable indicate that First Kuwaiti’s work fails
to meet basic safety standards, said an administration official who was
not authorized to speak to the news media. But the State Department’s
Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), which oversees construction of the
new embassy, has kept a “close hold” on the project, making it
difficult for anyone else in the government to gauge progress. “We are
suspecting we will find the same issues in the new embassy,” resulting
in months of delays, the official said.

Samir Ida, the company’s
construction director, said that the guard base was completed to “all
specifications.” He provided an e-mail from an OBO official who
described it as “one of the better built camps” in Iraq.

My money’s on Samir. It is not (as some might think) an untenable
position to hold that one of the better built camps would have smoking
wires and uninhabitable housing. Actually, most of the better-built-projects in Iraq are of that type, becoming uninhabitable before their grand opening.
America has been consistently pissing money in the direction of Iraq
these past four years without even the most minimally competent
oversight. Don’t sweat it, Samir. Things are so bad in Iraq
that, beyond a newspaper article or two, your screwed-up guard base
will go the same route as Rummy’s Star Wars and the Coast Guard’s
wasted billions.
We got our own problems. Our National Parks, schools and
infrastructure are falling into pieces while hundreds of billions slip
through governmental fingers. No one really gives a shit. It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy.
While the big issues of American deaths and Cheney’s shell-game with our liberties share the spotlight with Paris Hilton, the real story and the real scandal is
the overpowering, unrelenting, inexorable and endless incompetence of
this government, at every level (Bush sent everyone home in the
contract supervision bureaucracy). He has presided over a 40% reduction
in contract supervisors, while there has been a 78% increase in
contracts since this nightmare in the Middle East began.
GencharlesewilliamsThose who are left are working their butts off sticking fingers in an ever degrading dike.
That’s privatizing. That’s making government smaller and more responsive
. Smaller in the number of insiders with their fingers in the pot, more responsive to Samir and General Dynamics.

Maj. Gen. Charles E. Williams, the director of OBO, who was formerly
with the Army Corps of Engineers, declined to be interviewed. “It is
internal business,” said his special assistant, Phyllis A.

Internal business as usual.
Media comment;

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