Rewiring and Upgrading Iraq
By Cynthia L. Webb
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 25, 2003; 9:46 AM
While fighting continues to rage in Iraq, the race for the post-war spoils already is entering a frenzied pace. When Saddam Hussein's regime is removed from power, the entirety of Iraq's economic infrastructure -- from communications systems to public works projects to oil fields -- will need some level of reconstruction, and firms worldwide are hawking their services.
Planning has been underway for a long time. "Under a State Department program known as the Future of Iraq Project, Iraqi exiles with expertise in IT and other disciplines have delivered to the Bush administration studies and recommendations on reconstructing postwar Iraq. David Staples, a spokesman for [the project], which was initiated in October, said 17 working groups have been established, including an economics and infrastructure group focused on IT infrastructure and telecommunications requirements," Computerworld reported in a recent article. "Ahmed Al-Hayderi, a member of the infrastructure working group who defected from Iraq in 1980, works for a global telecommunications firm in the U.S. According to Al-Hayderi, the community of 4 million Iraqi exiles includes many senior corporate executives from technology companies that are eager to invest in Iraq and assist in the rebuilding." The Defense Department and its Defense Information Systems Agency are also active in planning for the IT requirements of a post-war Iraq, Computerworld said.
• Computerworld: Rebuilding Plans For Postwar Iraq Depend On IT
Divvying up dollars and contracts for rebuilding Iraq is a complicated -- and often political -- process. At a briefing for reporters yesterday, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Web site has a list of the "contracts that we are looking at for the reconstruction of facilities and infrastructure, and things like the health system, the education system in Iraq, where we are putting up U.S. money for U.S. firms, U.S. contractors to be able to go in and start helping Iraqis rebuild their country after these years of degradation, and whatever damage might occur in the conflict." Boucher also said that many of the firms that are awarded contracts are multi-national firms or many will use multi-national subcontractors on the various projects that are awarded -- a response likely related to criticism that USAID contracts favor U.S. firms.
The initial USAID contracts involve projects ranging from managing Iraq's seaport operations, air operations and upgrading public buildings, hospitals and schools -- all projects that will involve technology in some form, be it through supplying computers, electricity or new telecommunications equipment. But the prospect of rebuilding is a costly proposition. Rubar Sandi, a member of the infrastructure working group for the State Department Iraq project, told Computerworld that retrofitting Iraq's data and voice networks could cost $1 billion to $1.5 billion and take at least six years to finish.
In its coverage of USAID contracts that have already been awarded to American companies for the initial rebuilding of Iraq, The Washington Post noted: "The amount of aid that is needed for reconstruction, although still far from determined, is certain to dwarf the sum that the USAID is planning to spend on the contracts in question, and that is one major reason that U.S. officials say they would welcome involvement by international agencies and other countries. Many experts have cited estimates ranging from $25 billion to $100 billion for the full reconstruction, while the largest contract the USAID is planning to award at this stage is for about $600 million."
• The Washington Post: U.S. Set To Award Seven Contracts For Rebuilding of Iraq
• The Washington Post: U.S. Selects Firm To Run Iraqi Port
Companies worldwide are jockeying to get pole position for lucrative contracts for the overhaul of Iraq's critical infrastructures. Businesses in India may "gain a good chunk of business opportunities in the reconstruction of Iraq and international diplomacy will play a critical role in this. While Afghanistan was said to be a damp squib after the initial euphoria, Indian industry is banking on some fundamental differences between Iraq and Afghanistan to leverage on the potential which will be unlocked as and when war ends in the Gulf," The Economic Times reported from New Delhi. But the tit-for-tat over who is likely to win out on the most contracts continues. The Scotland on Sunday newspaper reported "fears that US companies will get most of the rebuilding work in Iraq were raised last week with leaked documents revealing non-governmental organisations and the UN stand to get just $50m of rebuilding contracts from the US government. That compares with the $1.5bn being offered to private companies, with Washington restricting the initial bidding process -- for contracts worth $900m -- to American firms."
• The Economic Times: India Inc. Helps To Play A Part In Rebuilding Iraq
• Scotland On Sunday: Charm Offensive for Scots Role in Rebuilding Iraq
• Agence France-Presse via iafrica.com: U.K. Presses For Share of Rebuilding Iraq
One of the biggest outstanding questions for a post-war Iraq is who gets to develop Iraq's oilfields. According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the "State Department has sponsored talks as recently as this month between Iraqi opposition leaders and representatives of American oil companies but declined to reveal the names of participants. Analysts believe that American and British oil companies could be beneficiaries of the war, along with American companies that provide services to the oil industry, possibly at the expense of the French, Russian and Chinese companies that had signed contracts with Saddam's regime or were negotiating with it. A leading company in the oil-service industry is Halliburton Co., which was headed by Dick Cheney before he became vice president. Reports that a Halliburton subsidiary was one of the handful of companies that the U.S. Agency for International Development asked to bid on contracts for the initial reconstruction in postwar Iraq sparked controversy both here and abroad. The Army Corps of Engineers will oversee further contracts for repairing oil facilities. A spokesman said Friday that details of that work are classified."
• The St. Louis Post Dispatch: Iraq's Oil Fields Garner Intense Interest
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that reconstruction planning has been in the works for a long time: "Major construction companies and other contractors are lining up to do the billions of dollars' worth of rebuilding that Iraq will require. Many of them are getting a little testy, but the arguments have been muted. Why? Mostly because the companies, with federal assistance, started slicing the pie even before the first bombs fell on Iraq last week. Now, from press reports we get a picture of American construction giants in line for exclusive bids for the early work -- companies like Bechtel Group, Parsons, Fluor and, interestingly, the Brown & Root Services subsidiary of Halliburton, the company Vice President Dick Cheney headed as chief executive before he took office. Kellogg Brown already has the contract to put out fires in the Iraqi oil fields."
• The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Contractors Eager To Get In On Rebuilding Shattered Iraq
Meanwhile, entrepreneurs are already planning to sell Internet and wireless phone service in a post-war Iraq. Case in point: Saad Al-Barrak, head of Kuwait's largest cell-phone service provider Mobile Telecommunications, told The Wall Street Journal in an article yesterday that his company is readying networking equipment, generators and a 248-foot radio tower to help transmit cell phone calls in southern Iraq once U.S. military forces give him the go ahead. "He has two more portable stations waiting along Jordan's border with Iraq, and a dozen more in both Kuwait and Jordan that could be deployed to Iraq quickly. 'It's an amazing opportunity,' he says, predicting that in just six months he could provide coverage across Iraq, " The Journal reported. "Most international companies are reluctant to discuss opportunities in what could soon be the world's newest emerging market. Not so for dozens of Kuwaiti firms, which are openly mobilizing to capitalize on the more than 20 million potential customers in Iraq. A host of Kuwait businesses, including importers of such things as air conditioners and refrigerators, are also eager to tap the markets they anticipate among the military, press corps and relief organizations in Iraq."
• The Wall Street Journal: Kuwaiti Entrepreneurs Mobilize For Huge Post-War Iraqi Market (Subscription required)
E-mail Is a Soldier's Best Friend
Soldiers fighting in the wars of yesteryear had to rely on letters and in some rare cases, telephones, to keep in touch with family back home. Now technology is helping to keep U.S. troops in close contact with loved ones. The Wall Street Journal has a front-page story today about a 101st Airborne Division Army soldier who has wired his camp in Kuwait for Internet access, helping scores of his Army mates to send e-mails back home. "Dustin Price, a 21-year-old private from northern Michigan. Since arriving here at Camp New York three weeks ago, he has spliced together nearly two miles of abandoned wires and modems left behind by a U.S. tank division. A crucial piece of the project: A hub-switching box -- hooked into a government network -- that he and his tent-mates originally brought so they could duel in computer games such as 'Return to Castle Wolfenstein' and 'Warcraft III,'" The Journal reported. "Pvt. Price has wired 11 tents, providing e-mail and limited Internet access, as well as follow-up service. He takes no fees, save for a supply of anti-inflammatory pills the medics gave him to curb swelling in his right knee. The tents he has wired are crammed with as many as two dozen soldiers, many sleeping on the floor. The tents, usually equipped with one or two laptops, host constant visitors, who call them 'Internet cafes.' Other tech-savvy soldiers have linked into Pvt. Price's lines, creating more connections."
• The Wall Street Journal: Soldier Helps 101st Stay Close to Home (Subscription required)
The Journal also provides a transcript of some e-mail and Instant Message communications between a soldier and his wife, conversations made possible by Price's IT handiwork. An excerpt: "This is my last email because I am leaving. So from here on out all my correspondence will probably be via letter. Someday I will come back here, but that day is long off. Like I said before, don't worry. I will be with the 1st Marine Regiment, so if you see anything about them on the news you will know where I am. Once I get settled I will write you a letter with my new address, but it will take longer for mail to get to you from there. So until my letter gets through the government chain remember I love you, don't worry and I will be home as soon as I can. I love you and Avery more than you will ever know. Don't worry about me. You know I am too stubborn and mean to have anything happen to me."
• The Wall Street Journal: Soldiers and Families Connect Via E-mail (Subscription required)
Al Jazeera's English Web Site
Al Jazeera, the Arab news agency based in Qatar, has launched a Web site in English (The new site, however, was not accessible this morning.) CNET's News.com notes that the site provides "a starkly different view on the war with Iraq than that offered by many Western media outlets." Al Jazeera has been criticized for television pictures of U.S. prisoners of war. The Wall Street Journal said of the site: "Yet the site also showed its potential as an information resource. An eyewitness account from a correspondent in Baghdad described damage from U.S. bombing to civilian areas and a historic palace. Like many other articles, the item gave no information about its writer and was simply attributed to 'al-Jazeera.' Managing Editor Joanne Tucker, a former BBC journalist who holds dual U.S.-British citizenship and speaks Arabic, has promised Western-style standards of journalism. She said she stands by all the articles but conceded that the site has to do more to clarify what is news and what is opinion."
• CNET's News.com: Al Jazeera Launches Web Site In English
• The Wall Street Journal: Satellite Network Al-Jazeera Launches Web Site in English (Subscription required)
Grappling With Ethics of War
San Francisco and the surrounding Bay area was a center of the antiwar movement in the 1960s and 1970s, and The San Francisco Chronicle notes that many antiwar protestors went on to become "Silicon Valley technologists and entrepreneurs and who found themselves having the U.S. military as a key customer." The newspaper highlights the work of David Wilner and Jerry Fiddler, antiwar opponents in the 1960s, who helped create a technology that the U.S. military has latched onto and is using in the war in Iraq. "Wind River Systems of Alameda, the company they co-founded in a Berkeley garage in 1981, has provided technology that helps detect chemical weapons, makes communications systems more reliable and even guides U.S. bombs to specific enemy targets."
• The San Francisco Chronicle: Ethical Quandary/Ex-Activists Confront Issues of Tech and War
• The Associated Press via The San Jose Mercury News: SF Bay Area Firms Play Large Role In Military Affairs
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