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Published: Wednesday, 8/20/2003

Keeping it all in-house

The issue of burden-sharing in post-war Iraq is back again with the apparent decision of the Bush Administration not to seek a United Nations Security Council resolution permitting broader international participation in the effort there.

Consider the central role of private U.S. firms such as Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root, Bechtel, and at least eight other companies in carrying out the contracts that absorb the bulk of the $4 billion per month cost to the U.S. taxpayer of America's involvement there. One has to wonder how much channeling that money to those firms influences the administration's decision to keep other potential international partners out.

That doesn't mean that it is desirable for the United States to put up the money and other countries' companies to reap the benefits. But it is perfectly clear that if there were a U.N. resolution and countries such as France, Germany, and India were thus enabled to participate, then those countries would be prepared to ante up troops and money, thus reducing the burden on the United States in both areas.

The issue may become problematic, given yesterday's deadly truck bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, although U.N. officials said immediately that the attack would not deter operation of their humanitarian programs.

As of now, the United States has around 140,000 troops in Iraq. The United Kingdom has 11,000, and 17 other countries are providing another 10,000. Other troop providers include Poland, Italy, Spain, and smaller countries such as Estonia and Macedonia.

U.S. requests outside of Europe to the Dominican Republic, Mongolia, and the Philippines, for example, are pending. U.S. firms with big contracts in Iraq, awarded by the U.S. government without competitive bidding, are flourishing.

Halliburton, Vice President Cheney's former firm, showed a 2003 second-quarter profit of $26 million, as opposed to a 2002 second-quarter loss of $498 million, a major turnaround. Bechtel was awarded a $680 million contract.

The consumers in Iraq of some of the services of Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root - the U.S. forces on the ground - appear to be less than satisfied, with some still living off combat rations and limited water supplies, a situation that some of them consider to be due to civilian contractors' understandable reluctance to expose themselves to danger in a hostile environment in Iraq.

Fighting in Iraq continues to claim American lives, five dozen since President Bush declared victory May 1. The logic of setting out an end-game to U.S. rule in Iraq, in terms of the presence of our troops, the financial cost, and the colonial political aspects of the current American role, would seem to dictate internationalization of the issue through the U.N. as quickly as possible.

If that evolution of the problem of Iraq is being delayed to increase the profits of Halliburton, Bechtel, and other U.S. companies, there is definitely something wrong. If those companies and their leaders are playing a role in campaign financing, the whole thing starts to get really smelly.



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