- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Thousands of companies worldwide are trying to win U.S.-funded reconstruction contracts for Iraq despite security warnings and continued looting of supplies and equipment.

About 1,500 firms turned out yesterday in Washington as San Francisco-based contractor Bechtel started a three-city roadshow in search of potential subcontractors to help it rebuild war-torn Iraq.

A Bechtel official described the crowd, which snaked through the lower level of downtown’s Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, as “overwhelmingly large.” The firm restructured the event into two 1 hour sessions, instead of a single three-hour presentation, to accommodate the crowd.

Companies yesterday were eager to learn what Bechtel is doing.

“You know there is going to be some business, and there’s not much [in the United States] now,” said Jon Hestnar, a sales representative for Radnor Alloy, a Houston-based firm that makes parts for the power industry.

Bechtel won the largest of nine reconstruction contracts being awarded by the U.S. Agency for International Development to help rebuild Iraq.

The initial award for Bechtel is $34.6 million, though over 18 months funding could reach $680 million.

Bechtel plans to farm out about 90 percent of the work to subcontractors, a company official said yesterday.

Bechtel’s award is for critical infrastructure projects. The company currently is focusing on opening Iraq’s main port so that emergency shipments can enter, and restoring Iraq’s power-distribution system, said Cliff Mumm, project director for Bechtel in Iraq.

Restoring Baghdad and Basra airports, and repairing six bridges are also high on the company’s priority list, Mr. Mumm said.

But he warned that the work environment can be dangerous, advising companies that they must provide security, that employees in Iraq still wear flak jackets and helmets, and that equipment is a target for looters.

While damage from the U.S.-led war to topple Saddam Hussein is apparent, it is not the major cause of extensive infrastructure damage, he said.

“What really damaged Iraq was 10 years of neglect … and on top of that the looting, which goes on today,” Mr. Mumm said. He had just returned from Iraq Tuesday.

Bechtel has a team of about 70 personnel in Iraq and Kuwait, with offices in Kuwait City, Basra, Baghdad, Mosul and Al Hillah.

They are still assessing the scope of work to be done and have not determined all necessary projects or how many subcontracts will be awarded.

Bechtel has awarded 14 subcontracts to nine different firms so far, officials said yesterday. The awards are mostly to American firms, though British, Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian firms also have won work.

Bechtel officials would not divulge dollar amounts for the contracts, though they said Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., a Chicago-based company, has received the biggest subcontracts so far — to assess and dredge the Umm Qasr port.

The remaining subcontracts average about $500,000 in value and are for security, unexploded-ordnance removal, catering, communications and engineering, according to Bechtel.

Despite the apparent dangers and limited funding for such a large project, thousands of potential subcontractors are expected to turn out at Bechtel’s three-city roadshow, in Washington, London and Kuwait City.

More than 4,300 firms from 72 countries have registered through Bechtel’s Web site for potential Iraq work.

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