Saturday, October 28, 2006

Teed Off

[posted by Callimachus]

First Part

Second Part

Third Part

Fourth Part

Fifth Part

This is the final post in a six-part series of posts was written by our friend Kat, the contractor's employee who worked on reconstruction projects in and around Iraq after the fall of Saddam. Her story is told here and here among other places (listed in the sidebar at left).

As far as I know, the only anti-Administration blogger to really take up these pieces and accept then into his broader view of the war was Kevin Robinson's My Thinking Corner.

Kevin asked Kat some questions about her impressions and her experiences, which she answered, with elaborations, at his site. With Kevin's permission, I'm reprinting her answers, lightly edited, as posts here, since they are interesting in their own right and they broaden and deepen the story she told in the series of posts last month.

Kevin's questions are in italics, and quotes. Emphasis added, in boldface, is by the editor.

October 18

I had one more thing to add. Cal chatted with me earlier and looked over my response. He seemed to like this one part especially.

“For example, it was not unusual to replace an obviously damaged valve on a water supply system only to find that once pressure was placed on the balance of the line, three other valves (not to be found anywhere in Iraq) promptly blew, or whole sections of pipe split, or leaks developed around hundreds of packing joints and gaskets.”

In thinking about it, just so you or anyone else reading can understand, the above represents a great deal of what was encountered in Iraq, and in many cases is still being dealt with. It also illustrates one of the reasons for things such as open-ended contracts. The U.S. knew Saddam had neglected his country to a fair extent, but we were not prepared for the level of dilapidation we encountered. As it worked out, Saddam had basically turned Iraq into his own oil company for himself and his friends, while turning the rest of the nation into his own at-gunpoint cheering section.

Ultimately somebody has to either pay for these additional problems to be fixed, or accept systems working at 20% capacity and rapidly becoming nonfunctional. Saddam didn’t have to worry about it as long as he could turn tricks for oil and keep his guns loaded. But the rest of the nation, the free Iraqi nation of today, requires functional systems for their future.

A lot of companies had to make hard decisions concerning what they were dealing with, including accepting the possibility that the systems or structures in question were simply too degraded to be salvaged. With repair parts already difficult and expensive to obtain, some repairs simply had to be abandoned in favor of total system redesigns and replacement. Band-Aids may be cheap, but it you have to use a hundred of them a day just to keep your systems running at 30% capacity, you’re not really saving anything.

And yes, in other cases Band-Aids were applied. Parts and pieces aren’t always easy to find, and in many cases with twenty-year-old equipment and older, they don’t exist. So when something has to be done NOW, you patch it up and hope it holds together until better replacements can be obtained. But this, too, costs money.

So again, somebody had to pay for this. In most of the open ended contracts seen early on, it was actually the contractors, including those big and evil ones, that were footing the bill. They were often working months, even over a year in some cases, ahead of contract approvals and payments. They also understand that arguments or discrepancies will ultimately become billing problems, so wherever possible they avoid them.

But when there are this many unknowns, this much neglect to so many systems, and this many difficulties in securing parts and qualified labor, you’re going to have additional expenses, period. And when you hand over money to a country with no tradition of handling money well, you’re going to have even more of them.

There is at least one writer currently making great political hay out of the reconstruction process in Iraq. Great emphasis has been placed on a missing $365 million out of some $60 billion in a land where bribery to tribal leaders is common, knowledge of proper government level accounting techniques is virtually unknown, security costs are ten times the those originally estimated, and parts and equipment are like gold. In my opinion, this man is a partisan deadheaded fool with no more business experience than my dog, yet he is a major writer for a major U.S. newspaper who hopes you will rush out and buy his new book – on business in Iraq.

Well, I did, and I read it, and it was a gory bunch of elementary school level garbage. The man cannot even understand the reports he has been fortunate enough to stumble upon. If you ever want an example of one side of a story being presented with as many attempts to camouflage the rest of the story as possible, maybe you’d like his book. If you want to do this while being led to his own predestined conclusion, you should buy it. But if you don’t want to pay for the book, relax. He’s already written most of it in his newspaper, the Los Angeles Times.