Richard May / Center for Defense Information – 2007-04-25 23:26:52
(April 12, 2007) — There are several reasons why Iraq evolved into the quagmire that it is today. Expedited elections entrenched sectarian and ethnic divisions, the US military was unable to provide security, and coalition forces were unable to maintain the trust of the local national population, along with many other reasons.
One of the oft-overlooked contributing factors for the declining situation is the diminutive role of the Iraqi population in its own reconstruction and relief operations. The United States has been conducting these operations in order to help stabilize the country, but even with $22 billion allotted to reconstruction, stability and security have remained elusive. So where has this money gone?
According to the US State Department, the majority of all contracts for Iraqi reconstruction and relief operations have gone to US companies. These US companies bring guest workers from other neighboring countries or subcontract to local Iraqi contractors to complete the tasks that they are expected to accomplish.
While the intentions of the US companies in Iraq are noble, the negative impact of this is that the profits from these contracts are being extracted from Iraq. By bringing in guest workers, long-term employment options for Iraqis are undermined, worsening the economic situation in Iraq.
By subcontracting to Iraqi companies, a culture of dependency is developed where Iraqis are paid low wages and are subservient to US companies, atrophying economic development and growth.
Why have these contracts not been awarded to Iraqi contractors? Why has the United States decided to contract to US-based companies and then subcontract to local contractors and businesses? Common answers are that Iraqis lack the technical knowledge; the lack of logistical infrastructure inhibits the abilities of Iraqi contractors, and the security threat is prohibitive. Under scrutiny, these arguments don’t hold true.
The technical knowledge and expertise of the Iraqi engineer has been questioned, without reason. The claim that major projects lie outside the scope of the skill for an Iraqi engineer is ridiculous.
A Harvard study in 1991 found that at the conclusion of the first Gulf War, Iraq had only 4 percent of its pre-war power wattage. Within four months, Iraqi engineers, under sanctions, were able to rehabilitate power production to two-thirds of the pre-war level, or 6,000 megawatts. This is in comparison to the current power output in Iraq of 4,200 megawatt hours, as reported by the US Government Accountability Office.
Furthermore, if the Iraqis lack technical knowledge, then how did they ever become such a threat to the United States that it was worth an invasion? Iraq was a modern country in every sense of the word. They had dams, roads, communications networks and hospitals. According to US companies, this country, which was a regional power only a few years ago, has now become a place that lacks the skill to build a road.
In Iraq, the lack of infrastructure has become an impediment to economic expansion and does hinder the ability of Iraqis to conduct engineering projects of a large scale.
Even with this roadblock, the focus should not be on extra-state actors as the solution. Instead, the United States should contract with Iraqi companies and allow US companies to provide logistical support to the Iraqis. This will build enduring logistical infrastructure within Iraq instead of the temporary logistics networks the US companies build.
So while the logistical infrastructure of Iraq is an impediment, it should be fixed instead of bypassed. By continuing to use US companies for logistical support, the United States is creating a culture of dependency in Iraq.
The security environment in Iraq is a major area of concern. Daily attacks threaten coalition troops, contractors and the local population. The enemy that conducts these attacks is indistinguishable from any other Iraqi citizen.
These unidentifiable threats are another reason that the United States has chosen to use US companies for reconstruction operations over local nationals. In reality, this policy is counterproductive for security in Iraq. Coalition forces and Iraqis need to be working together as much as possible to build trust in one another, as evidenced by the current decentralization of US forces by Gen. David Petraeus.
By contracting with Iraqi companies, the United States will be building a stronger relationship that will build trust, respect and confidence in Iraqis. Furthermore, if Iraqis are such a security threat, then why do US companies subcontract their work out to Iraqi contractors?
Obviously, Iraqis are not that much of a threat — when they are subordinate to US companies that is.
The image of the Iraqi as incompetent, unreliable and threatening is a constructed reality that endangers the future of Iraqi independence. US companies are creating a culture of dependency in Iraq that will atrophy infrastructure and business development. The excuses that US companies and the US government give for not contracting with Iraqis are the moral equivalent of the white man’s burden excuses given during colonialism.
We must end this practice now and stop employing exploitative contracting and instead help the Iraqis to take the lead in the rebuilding of their country. Having Iraqis rebuild their own country will result not only in visible infrastructure but the reconstruction of the Iraqi spirit and future.
Richard May served as an officer in the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is currently the Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the World Security Institute’s Center for Defense Information.
“Wasting Money in Iraq,” was first published by United Press International on April 11, 2007.
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