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Companies Bid for U.S. Contract To Reconstruct Iraq After the War

By Peter Slevin and Mike Allen
THE WASHINGTON POST -- The Bush administration, preparing what would be the most ambitious U.S. rebuilding project since the aftermath of World War II, expects in coming days to award a construction contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars to begin remaking Iraq, U.S. officials said Monday.

The massive umbrella contract, the first to be awarded, would pay for construction and repairs to roads and bridges, as well as schools, hospitals and mosques, officials said. Other large deals are under negotiation to jump-start a reconstruction effort that would follow an overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

A handful of U.S. construction giants -- including the Bechtel Group Inc., Halliburton Co. and Fluor Corp. -- were invited to bid for the work on an emergency basis. Analysts said the companies hope to win the contract and position themselves for such future projects as the repair and development of the country’s oil industry.

U.S. authorities, wary of a potential backlash to a U.S.-led invasion and military occupation, hope to persuade Iraqis, by showing fast results, that the extraordinary attempt to overhaul Iraq merits their support. They believe they can win hearts and minds by feeding hungry Iraqis, delivering clean water and helping to pay teachers and health workers while a new government is being constructed.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is seeking companies to handle such projects as renovating the country’s airports, resuscitating electrical grids, and printing textbooks.

The administration will seek from Congress the billions of dollars necessary for the initial military and civilian post-war effort if the White House challenges Iraq with force. U.S. diplomats have been seeking financial commitments from other countries. Planners also hope Iraqi oil revenue can help pay for reconstruction.

The initial construction contract could be as large as $900 million, U.S. officials have said. One planner called the number a ceiling and predicted the actual amount of the umbrella contract would be lower.

“The United States is probably going to have to pick up the bulk of what’s going to happen in reconstruction, at least at the outset,” said Bathsheba Crocker, co-author of a report on post-Hussein Iraq at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s acknowledged even by them that it’s going to be a drop in the bucket compared to what the overall costs will be.”

To speed the project, USAID invoked special authority to solicit bids from selected companies, which include the Louis Berger Group Inc., a significant U.S. contractor in Afghanistan. The move bypassed the usual rules that would have permitted a wider array of companies to seek the contract, as reported by Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal.

Vice President Dick Cheney spent five years as chief executive of one competitor, Houston-based energy services company Halliburton. The Pentagon announced Thursday that Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root is developing a plan under an existing contract to fight Iraqi oil well fires.

The “urgent circumstances and the unique nature of this work” justify the procedures, said USAID spokeswoman Ellen Yount. Officials said the winner is certain to farm out work to other companies inside and outside Iraq.