| Dick Cheney. (Reuters)
Washington, March 31: A quarrel over spoils in Iraq has begun even before the war is into its full fury.
After nearly a week of controversy, it has been decided that an oil conglomerate which Dick Cheney headed until his election as Vice-President will not be in the running for a massive US government contract to rebuild Iraq after the war.
On Tuesday, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that a contract for fighting oil-well fires in Iraq had been given to Halliburton’s subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), without any tender. Immediately, Henry Waxman, the senior-most Democrat on the House of Representatives Government Reform Committee, wrote to Army Corps of Engineers Lieutenant General Robert Flowers demanding an explanation.
In the run-up to the war, a major criticism by those opposed to military action has been that Iraq was being targeted not because of its weapons of mass destruction, but on account of the interest in its oil industry among Texans who now rule Washington.
“I am writing to inquire why the administration entered into a contract potentially worth tens of millions of dollars to a subsidiary of Halliburton without any competition or even notice to Congress,” Waxman wrote.
“The contract to extinguish oil-well fires in Iraq has no set time limit and no dollar limit and is apparently structured in such a way as to encourage the contractor to increase its costs and, consequently, the costs to the taxpayer,” the Congressman alleged.
KBR immediately chose Boots and Coots International of Texas, with which it has a partnership, and Wild Well Control Inc. as subcontractors for the firefighting effort.
Demanding an answer from the army by April 4, Waxman asked that “when Kellogg, Brown and Root was asked by the army to develop a contingency plan for extinguishing oil-well fires in Iraq in November 2002, were any other companies asked to develop similar plans' If not, why not'”
He indignantly demanded to know “why did the administration fail to provide an opportunity for other companies to bid on this contract”.
Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Gene Pawlik was quoted here as saying: “It made the most sense to engage them in the near term as the company to get the mission done because they were familiar with the details of the fires themselves and what would be needed.”
During the weekend, it was announced here that Halliburton or KBR, also based in Texas, will not be among the finalists for a Bush administration bid for a 21-month contract to reconstruct Iraq’s roads, bridges, hospitals and other infrastructure. Halliburton or its subsidiaries may still bid for subcontracts once the main contractor is selected. It is not clear if last week’s oil-well firefighting contract, on which work has already begun, will continue.
Meanwhile, differences have surfaced between Britain and the US on running Iraq’s post-war infrastructure. The US Agency for International Development has already given a contract worth $4.8 million to Stevedoring Services of America to rebuild Iraq’s Umm Qasr port although it was the British troops that subdued opposition at Umm Qasr.