Iraq’s reconstrucion following the current attacks could be the biggest rebuild operation since just after the Second World War. But who gets to win the infrastructure contracts – and will UK contractors get Short-changed?
As the war to oust Saddam begins in earnest, American planners are already turning their attention to the aftermath of the battle. They have ambitious plans to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure within 18 months of the war’s end. A leaked report suggest that the reconstruction of Iraq will be the biggest such project since Japan and Germany were rebuilt after the Second World War.

Not surprisingly, American firms are set to enjoy the majority of the victory spoils. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has already invited five US companies to bid for $900m (£580m) of potential contracts to rebuild Iraq.

USAID is managing the majority of the civilian contracts to build, repair or manage Iraqi hospitals, roads, schools, airports and shipping. It has a policy of selecting US companies but it does allow the main contractors to appoint non-US subcontractors and contractors.

Foreign office minister Mike O’Brien told parliament this week that the US had given assurances that American firms undertaking construction work would subcontract up to 50% of this to firms from other countries. O’Brien said that UK companies would be in a good position to win many of these contracts. The fact that UK troops are pushing into Iraq alongside the Americans will no doubt enable British contractors to clinch contracts ahead of, say, their French counterparts.

O’Brien says that Clare Short will be putting forward the case for British contractors. As international development secretary, Short is currently in Washington working on UN resolutions that will provide authority for the reconstruction and development of Iraq.

An indication of what might happen can be seen in Afghanistan. British contractors are currently bidding for work on road and other infrastructure contracts. Whether the American’s multilaterist approach will continue in Iraq is in some doubt. America believes that having to work with a multitude of agencies has resulted in unnecessary bureaucracy, which has slowed the redevelopment of the country.

USAID’s plans in Iraq are ambitious. It wants 3,000 miles of main roads repaired and fully open by Spring 2004 and referral hospitals functioning in 21 cities. It also wants to get 25,000 schools functioning at a “standard level of quality”.

To those witnessing the coalition’s current destruction of Iraq’s infrastrucutre these proposals may look fanciful (and possibly tasteless) but soon Blair and Bush will be relying on a successful reconstruction strategy to secure a fragile peace in Iraq.