The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

concrete solutions

The New York Times, which, despite its manifold faults, has at least remained reasonably critical of the trough-feeding manner in which the Iraqi “reconstruction� business has been funded, is retailing a report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Construction that criticizes contractors for spending too much on “overhead.�

There seem to have been a bunch of issues involved in padding out the cost of doing business in Iraq (my favorite is “egregiously poor building practices.� Who saw that one coming?), but this story emphasizes “inactivity.� Bad coordination meant that (according to a spokesman for the office that released the report) contractors “…billed for sometimes nine months before work began.�

Presumably that whole thing about having snipers trying to take your head off as you drive to the site in the morning plays in there somehow as well, and the whole piece tip toes very quiet through the tulips when it comes to anything less mundane.

KBR (when did they change the name from Kellog Brown & Root?), apparently managed to skim off around half of their $300 million to “overhead.�

Does Cheney see any of that directly as cash, or at his level does it accrue as strictly political capital?

Best comes last though, where Maj. Gen. William H. McCoy of the Army Corps of Engineers points out testily that “waiting for concrete to cure� is work too.

Tell it to Jimmie Hoffa.

Meanwhile, on the same note, if you can find a copy of this month’s Harper’s, don’t bother to read the piece by George McGovern and William Polk on getting out of Iraq.

On the one hand, a rethink about how the $250 million a day that the States is spending to stay in Iraq could better be spent getting out, is welcome. Add up the numbers and look at the cost of staying even another year, and billion dollar payoffs make good financial sense.

Clearly McGovern and Polk are right in saying that US forces are making things worse at this point and that they have “no useful role to play� in the domestic stabilization of Iraq.

However, their assertion that, should US forces withdraw, the insurgency is going to wither away into something that could be mopped up by a force of 15,000 troops from Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia, makes you wonder whether these guys shouldn’t have stayed in bed with a soft boiled egg and a nice cup of decaf, rather than pulling out the old Dictaphones and recalling their secretaries from retirement.

“Tribal home guards� will be restricted to “their communities� in this new, America-free, Iraq, by a “central government police� who will operate in a country free of the “disrupting� influence of a heavily armed national army.

Sounds nice. Sounds like a cartoon show I used to watch.