I have also been lucky enough to find blogs written by Iraqi's living currently in Iraq and read their posts in shock, realizing how little I really know about the totally ineffective, and misplaced focus of the US in that country. I will shortly be bringing to you a segment on "tales from within Iraq" as an additional blog attached to this one. Being informed is I believe the most important factor for we citizens who wait hopelessly and without the power to stop President Bush in focusing on increasing troops to Iraq, rather than fixing the problems that breed unrest in the country.
What shocked me even more was the state of financial corruption which exists in US companies given millions of dollars in contracts and their failure to complete the project for which they were paid. Here is but an example of such waste of our taxpayer dollars.
Cancer Hospital Remains Unfinished
First prominent among the long list of failures is the Basra Children's Hospital, which was intended as crown jewel of U.S. aid to Iraq. Instead, it has become a showcase for everything that went wrong. In August 2004, USAID awarded the $50 million contract to build the Hospital to Bechtel, a San Francisco-based engineering company, one of the largest engineering companies in the world, which has become synonymous with the building of nuclear power plants, gold mines and large projects like the new Hong Kong airport.
The idea was to create a state-of-the-art facility to treat childhood cancer, a pressing need in a city where cancer rates have skyrocketed following the first Gulf War. (Contested data link the rise in cancer to extensive U.S. use of depleted uranium weaponry in the region.)
The facility, championed by the First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, looked suspiciously like a political propaganda effort. And as with much U.S. aid, it was designed with little local consultation: the city lacked clean water and already has a leukemia ward where lack of funding means that each bed is shared by two or three children.
The hospital was planned by Project Hope, a charity headed by John P. Howe III, president of the University of Texas, San Antonio, and a Bush family friend
Project Hope had built similar hospitals in Poland and in China. Howe pushed the project after Rice and Bush invited him to visit Iraq to assess the country's healthcare system.
Before construction began in August 2005, the project attracted skeptics, who were concerned that it was a white elephant. Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe criticized the project: “Why build a hospital for kids, when the kids have no clean water?” the Arizonan asked. But it went ahead: No new technology would be spared in this showcase facility featuring with 94 beds, private cancer suites, CAT scans, a linear particle accelerator for radiation therapy, no.
But like every so many U.S.-initiated projects, the money to build this fancy facility would disappear when things went wrong. A year after the August 2005 groundbreaking, the project became a target for attacks, according to the company. The price tag rose from $50 million to an estimated $169.5 million. Cliff Mumm, president of the Bechtel infrastructure division, predicted that the project would fail. "It is not a good use of the government's money" to try to finish the project,” Mumm told the New York Times. "And we do not think it can be finished."
In July 2006, Bechtel was asked to withdrew from the project, which is now on hold. USAID spokesman David Snider’s cheerful spin on the stall was that the contract did not actually require the company to complete the hospital. "They are under a 'term contract,' which means their job is over when their money ends ... (so) they did complete the contract."
Iraqi officials were angry. "The pretexts given by Bechtel to the Iraqi government to justify its failure in finishing the project are untrue and unacceptable, especially the ones regarding the rise in security expenses," Sheik Abu Salam al-Saedi, a member of the Basra provincial council told the New York Times.
Asked about this comment, Bechtel spokesman Jonathan Marshall told CorpWatch that it was “irresponsible.”
“Given the many tragic deaths suffered by our subcontractors on the project and the evacuation of the area by many international aid workers “ his claim stand unchallenged,” Marshall wrote in an email response.
Deputy Minister Amar Al-Saffar charges that part of the failure traces back to Bechtel’s decision to hire a Jordanian company to oversee work by local Iraqi construction companies, instead of working directly with the Iraqis. "Our counterparts should have full faith in the Iraqi companies," Saffar told the New York Times, in July, less than four months before his kidnapping.
Marshall agreed that a Jordanian team (Mid Contracting, Universal Hospital Services, and Hospital Design and Planning) had been awarded the sub-contract, but pointed out that the workers were mostly Iraqi.
“We could not find Iraqi firms of equal caliber for this job, although Iraqi subcontractors were, of course, employed extensively,” Marshall told CorpWatch. “Bechtel’s record of hiring Iraqi firms was exemplary. We held major conferences in Baghdad and Basra to inform and recruit Iraq partners. Over the life of the project, we hired Iraqi subcontractors to perform about 75 percent of the work. At peak, our projects employed 40,000 Iraqi workers. Bechtel also trained and employed more than 600 Iraqi nationals on its professional staff.”