- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan His notion of business as usual means matching his suits to his flak jacket. He has had a lot of postwar reconstruction jobs, from Chechnya to Kosovo. Now Brent Balloch, a 27-year-old lawyer, is vying for deals in Iraq that could make him a millionaire.

With the price tag of rebuilding Iraq estimated at as much as $250 billion, the biggest job since World War II, he is angling to parlay his experience and his connections with Iraqis into lucrative contracts with the U.S. government.

Mr. Balloch, a New Zealand native, has spent the past month hunkered down here in Jordan, biding his time until the end of the fighting in Iraq by enlisting the aid of affluent Iraqi expatriates and trying to clinch his first contracts. Now that the Iraqi regime has collapsed, Mr. Balloch says he will leave for Iraq in the next two weeks.

Despite his tales of traipsing from one war-torn country to the next, Mr. Balloch whose hair is unkempt but whose shirts have cuff links insists he is not a modern-day carpetbagger.

"It might be a profit motive, but it means that people have air conditioning and heating and food, and they get their self-respect back, which doling out rice on the street doesn't give them," Mr. Balloch said.

"The way I see it, it's like being a doctor. A doctor doesn't want the patient to have cancer; a doctor doesn't want the patient to need his leg amputated or whatever. But if there's a problem and I go in and fix it, I'm really pleased that I can go in and do something I'm really proud of. I mean, a doctor doesn't work for free."

That said, Mr. Balloch doesn't hide his acute entrepreneurial instinct.

When he arrived in Amman, he realized the city's hotels had been overrun with foreign journalists, so he promptly sold off his flak jacket and satellite phone.

And for all of Mr. Balloch's medical metaphors, the reconstruction effort will hardly be a surgical operation.

Estimates vary wildly on how much investment will be necessary for the job. And no one knows yet how much of the effort will be commissioned by the Pentagon or the State Department's U.S. Agency for International Development or European countries or the United Nations.

The Pentagon this week awarded the San Francisco-based Bechtel Corp. a contract to repair Iraq's power, water and sewer systems a deal worth as much as $680 million.

By contrast, Mr. Balloch calls himself a niche player and whether he or other small entrepreneurs will get some of the action is not clear.

"There isn't a real open competition on this," said W. Patrick Lang, a Middle East intelligence analyst. "But it isn't a single-source solicitation either."

In Chechnya, a region he described as a "hell on earth," he performed security assessments for an orphanage.

In the Balkans he arranged to refurbish hotels, sealing the deals, he said, by demonstrating his tolerance for hard liquor.

Six months ago, when Balloch sensed that war would be inevitable in Iraq, he visited the country for three weeks, going to Basra and other cities in search of connections with locals.

"I never have a driver," he said. "I've met at least half a dozen qualified engineers by taking cabs. So often Western firms go into these places and they just ignore the talent and think that just because these places are degraded through war and tragedy that somehow they don't have the talent and human capital."

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