“War began last week,” said the New York Times on March 23, 2003. “Reconstruction starts this week.” In fact, the Bush administration had been soliciting proposals to “reconstruct” war-torn Iraq before dropping the first bomb, and before asking the UN Security Council to authorize military action. Between January 31 and March 4, the US Agency for International Development issued nine procurement actions—eight Requests for Proposals and one Request for Applications—for reconstruction work in Iraq. USAID awarded its first contract, for technical expertise on reconstruction, on February 7, two days after Secretary of State Colin Powell attempted to convince the Security Council of Iraq’s evasion of weapons inspections. UN Security Council Resolution 1483, passed in late May, confirmed that much of this work will be financed by Iraqi oil revenue, and conducted by multinational corporations chosen by the US and Britain. To date, all of the contracts, charted below, have been awarded by USAID, the US Army Corps of Engineers or the US Department of State.

Most scrutiny of the Iraq reconstruction process, including the ongoing General Accounting Office inquiry ordered up by Congress, has focused on its suspicious lack of competitive bidding—as exemplified by the early award to Dick Cheney’s former company Halliburton. Iraq’s designated rebuilders have numerous other dubious associations. Bechtel, recipient of the largest USAID contract to date, was involved in negotiations to build an oil pipeline from Iraq to the Jordanian port of Aqaba in 1983, a project discussed privately by Saddam Hussein and President Reagan’s envoy Donald Rumsfeld. Some of the Army engineers involved in emergency repairs to Baghdad International Airport and the capital’s electricity and sanitation grids helped to choose Iraqi infrastructure targets during the initial US bombardments of March. But to focus solely on the procurement process obscures larger questions regarding reconstruction. The procurement process itself didn’t set US policy for post-invasion Iraq or define what reconstruction would entail.

Larger questions of reconstruction are ones of definition. How does reconstruction in Iraq fit into broader US plans for the region? What “infrastructure” will the US consider vital for reconstruction? Will rebuilding concentrate on construction that will facilitate the work of post-war occupation, or the broader work necessary for sustaining the Iraqi economy after the occupation ends? Speaking in a not-for-attribution forum, one former Clinton administration official who played a major role in reconstruction and development activities during the 1990s termed this the distinction between “parasitic” and “sustainable” development. Parasitic contractors and investors seek to extract resources and do short-term construction that sustains the occupation of Iraq, as well as buy property while the currency is in flux only to sell at a higher price upon leaving the country. Sustainable development, on the other hand, might include industries providing permanent employment to Iraqis, agriculture and building the roads, power systems, telecommunications and computer networks that would serve these long-term goals.

Some early signs are discouraging. In Iraq, urbanization and reliance on the oil economy since the 1970s has turned Iraq from a food exporter into a nation heavily reliant on imported food. USAID plans to award a contract for agricultural development, although a Request for Proposals has not yet been issued. However, the appointment of Dan Amstutz as head of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq is a less than encouraging sign. Amstutz is a former senior executive of Cargill, the biggest grain exporter in the world, who served in the Reagan administration as a trade negotiator in the Uruguay round of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade talks. In a statement on Amstutz’s appointment, Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman said that he would “help us achieve our national objective of creating a democratic and prosperous Iraq while at the same time best utilize resources of our farmers and good industry in the effort, both for the interim and the long term.” Relief groups such as Oxfam worry this means that Iraqi agriculture will be left unprotected from cut-rate US competition, and that Amstutz will try to dump cheap US grain on the potentially lucrative Iraqi market rather than encourage the country to rebuild the agricultural sector. Kevin Watkins, policy director for Oxfam, responded to the appointment by stating: “Putting Dan Amstutz in charge of agricultural reconstruction in Iraq is like putting Saddam Hussein in the chair of a human rights commission.”

The US and Britain have created a reconstruction structure almost solely of foreign expertise, ignoring the Iraqis who rebuilt their oil industry with no international assistance under sanctions and the idea that local expertise may offer ingenious low-budget strategies to outside experts. The post-World War II Marshall Plan is used by US officials to foster the perception that a reprise in Iraq will be successful. There are other ways to reconstruct and develop Iraq with foreign technical expertise and financial backing. Drawing on existing local organizations and regional institutions falls outside the conceptual limits of US-led reconstruction. Whether or not Iraqis will be able to articulate their own vision for the reconstruction of their country, distinct from the ventriloquism of the occupying forces who claim that they are simply there to “let the people of Iraq decide their future,” remains to be seen.

February 7, 2003

International Resources Group (Washington, DC)

Technical expertise for reconstruction

$7.1 million (initial)

February 17, 2003

Air Force Contract Augmentation Program(US Air Force)

Logistical support services to USAID and contractors, including warehousing, customs clearance, trucking and provision of bottled water.

$4 million (initial), up to $26 million over 12 months

March 24, 2003

Stevedoring Services of America (Seattle)

Assessment of Umm Qasr port for delivery of humanitarian supplies and reconstruction materials; development of improvement plans to overcome port-imposed constraints; hiring of port pilots; cargo-handling services; and coordination of onward transport of shipments.

$4.8 million (initial)

April 11, 2003

Creative Associates International(Washington, DC)

Increasing enrollment and improving quality of primary and secondary education; facilitation of community involvement and other social mobilization to retain students; and development of baseline indicators.

$1 million (initial), up to $62.6 million over 12 months

April 11, 2003

Research Triangle Institute (North Carolina)

Strengthening management skills and capacity of local administrations and civic institutions to improve delivery of essential municipal services; training programs in communications, conflict resolution, leadership skills and political analysis.

$7.9 million (initial), up to $167.9 million over 12 months

April 17, 2003

Bechtel (San Francisco)

Emergency repair or rehabilitation of power generation facilities, electrical grids, municipal water systems, sewage systems, airport facilities, dredging, repair and upgrading of Umm Qasr seaport and reconstruction of hospitals, schools, ministry buildings, irrigation structures and transportation links.

$34.6 million (initial), up to $680 million over 18 months

Bechtel awarded subcontracts to: ArmorGroup Land Mines (Britain): advisory services on unexploded ordnance; Al-Bahar and Bardawil (Kuwait): construction and earth-moving equipment; Great Lakes Dredge and Dock (Oak Brook, Illinois): emergency dredging and marine surveying of Umm Qasr port; National Catering (Saudi Arabia); Olive Security (Britain): security during initial “pre-positioning and fact-finding phases” of construction work; Tamini Enterprises (Saudi Arabia): catering; Titan Maritime (Ft. Lauderdale, Florida): marine survey of wrecks at Umm Qasr port; Verestar (Fairfax, Virginia): emergency satellite communication.

April 30, 2003

Abt Associates (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

Supporting a reformed Iraqi Ministry of Health; delivering health services; providing medical equipment and supplies; training and recruiting health staff; providing health education and information; and determining the specific needs of the health sector and vulnerable populations such as women and children.

$10 million (initial), up to $43.8 million over 12 months

May 5, 2003

SkyLink Air and Logistic Support (Washington, DC)

Assessment of civilian airports and collaboration for their timely repair; management of civilian airports for processing of humanitarian assistance, reconstruction material and personnel.

$2.5 million (initial)


Bearing Point (McLean, Virginia)

Iraqi monetary policy and currency, as part of planned Mass Privatization Program.

Perhaps $70 million in the first year


Award for promotion of diverse and representative citizen participation in and among communities throughout Iraq; identification, prioritization and delivery of critical reconstruction and development needs.

March 28, 2003


Restoration/provision of basic health services to vulnerable populations, focusing on women and children; support for primary health care services; essential medicines, vaccines and micronutrients; rapid referral and response system; and distribution of health education materials and nutritional assessments.

$8 million for one year initially, up to $40 million

March 28, 2003

World Health Organization

Identification of immediate and short-term health care needs; rapid restoration of essential health services; and strengthening of the capacity of a reformed Iraqi Ministry of Health to manage the health sector, including review and further development of health policies and health system management.

$10 million for one year

April 8, 2003


Promotion of “Back to School” campaign aimed at 25 percent of children currently not in primary school; rapid assessments to determine the availability of school materials; establishment of temporary schools where none are functioning; training of teachers; the establishment of accelerated learning programs; and the development of an education management system for Iraq.

$1 million for one year initially, up to $7 million.

US Army Corps of Engineers Awards

March 24, 2003

Kellogg, Brown and Root (Houston, Texas) (Halliburton subsidiary)

Extinguish oil fires; evaluate and repair, as directed by the US government, Iraq’s petroleum infrastructure.

Up to $7 billion over two years (estimated)

Kellogg, Brown and Root awarded subcontracts to: Boots and Coots Well Management (Houston, Texas): managing oil fires in southern Iraq; Wild Well Control (Harvey, Louisiana): managing oil fires in southern Iraq.

April 1, 2003

Washington Group International (Boise, Idaho)

Fluor Intercontinental (Greenville, South Carolina)

Perini Corporation (Framingham, Massachusetts)

No specific work identified to date, but potential services include design-build activities, construction, and short-term operations and maintenance.

Minimum of $500,000 and maximum of $100 million per company, over one year.

State Department Awards

April 18, 2003

DynCorp (Reston, Virginia) (Computer Sciences Corporation subsidiary)

Advising the Iraqi government on establishment of law enforcement; DynCorp will provide up to 1,000 civilian advisors to help the government of Iraq organize civilian law enforcement, judicial and correctional agencies.

Up to $50 million for the first year (estimated), depending on assessments of Iraqi capabilities by initial advisors.

How to cite this article:

Anthony Alessandrini, Adam Horowitz, Elizabeth Rosenberg "Iraq Reconstruction Tracker," Middle East Report 227 (Summer 2003).

For 50 years, MERIP has published critical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, history, and social justice not available in other publications. Our articles have debunked pernicious myths, exposed the human costs of war and conflict, and highlighted the suppression of basic human rights. After many years behind a paywall, our content is now open-access and free to anyone, anywhere in the world. Your donation ensures that MERIP can continue to remain an invaluable resource for everyone.


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