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US 'is an empire in denial'

President spells out fears over dollar's slide

Bush spurned in quest for Israeli promise to end occupation

Putin and Bush heal rift on Iraq in midst of festivities

A stiff handshake, a tense smile but no invitation to the Texas ranch for Chirac

Atlanta Games bomb suspect in court

Short: Blair lied to cabinet and made secret war pact with US

French hold up weapons deal

Powell's doubts over CIA intelligence on Iraq prompted him to set up secret review

Gary Younge: Now dissent is 'immoral'

Tonight won't be just any night for Posh and Becks

Seven years, thousands of officers: America's Most Wanted is caught at last

Walter Mitty life of anthrax terror suspect

Anthrax suspect lied to get jobs

Future oil sales may be pawned to banks

US firms get $1.5bn deal to rebuild Iraq

Oliver Burkeman in Washington
Tuesday March 18, 2003
The Guardian

The United States plans to transform the infrastructure of Iraq within a year of a war ending, but has sidelined aid agencies by allocating almost all the funds available to private American firms.

Non-governmental organisations and the UN would get just $50m, a tiny fraction of the $1.5bn being offered to private companies, according to more than 100 pages of confidential contract documents leaked to the Wall Street Journal.

In the Azores at the weekend, President George Bush emphasised the need for a significant UN role in a postwar Iraq, a stance the administration considers essential to maintaining some degree of multilateral backing for military action and its aftermath.

But Washington's plan - backed by a request for cash that the White House is expected to submit to Congress soon - envisages a rapid reconstruction process led by US corporations, repairing Iraq's infrastructure and reforming its educational, healthcare and financial systems, with many results evident before a year has passed.

US administration officials would act as "shadow ministers", keeping a close eye on Iraq's new government.

The UN development programme, which has traditionally coordinated many postwar rebuilding schemes, estimates that reconstruction could cost $10bn a year, over at least three years - whereas the request to Congress is expected to demand a total of $1.8bn for reconstruction in the first year, and $800m for humanitarian assistance, the Journal reported.

Washington has restricted the initial bidding process - for contracts worth $900m - to American firms, invoking emergency regulations that allow companies to sidestep the usual open procedures.

A subsidiary of Halliburton, the firm formerly headed by the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, is a member of one of four consortia whose bids were invited in a secret process last month. Several of the firms are major Republican party donors.

The Bush administration intends to make sure the Iraqi people know that the US has taken the central role in rebuilding, in an effort to shore up public opinion there, the leaked documents suggest.

Officials at USAID, the government department coordinating the plan, believe that a more multilateral approach could see projects getting bogged down.

Ellen Yount, a USAID spokesperson, said non-American firms were not excluded from the process because they could serve in subcontract roles, and might be candidates for future bidding rounds.

The USAID plans have been roundly condemned by NGOs and representatives of the EU and UN.

Mark Malloch Brown, head of the UN development programme, said the one-year deadline "flies in the face of human history," while Chris Patten, the EU's external affairs commissioner, has called the US approach "exceptionally maladroit".

Special report

Interactive guides
Click-through graphics on Iraq

Voices on Iraq
Read our collection of 30 exclusive interviews

Comment and analysis
Comment and analysis on Iraq

Iraq: archive special

09.12.2002: Weapons inspections
04.10.2002: War with Iraq

The weblog
Weblog special: Iraq

News guide

Key documents
05.02.2003: Full text of Colin Powell's speech to the UN
Sites visited by the UN weapons inspectors
20.12.2002: Colin Powell's statement on Iraq's weapons declaration
20.12.2002: UN security council resolution 1441 on Iraq
UK government dossier on human rights abuses in Iraq (pdf)
UK government dossier on Iraq's military capability (pdf)

In pictures
Saddam Hussein's inner circle
10 years after the Gulf war

Anti-war movement
Special report: the anti-war movement
28.01.2003: Guide to anti-war websites

Useful links
Arab Gateway: Iraq briefing
Middle East Daily
Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq
Global Policy Forum: sanctions against Iraq
UN special commission on Iraq

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