Non-U.S. firms to help reconstruct Iraq

After an outcry from the European Union, non-U.S. firms are no longer barred from bidding on contracts to help reconstruct Iraq. The Bush administration waived a law Tuesday that allowed only American companies to win federal contracts.

While almost half the $600 million requested for Iraq reconstruction could go to international corporations, the prime contracts will still be awarded to U.S. companies. A few of those contracts have already been awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers, including a contract to Halliburton — which will help the firefighting and rebuilding of Iraqi oil wells — and a $4.8 million contract to Stevedoring Services of America, which will develop plans to improve and reopen the Umm Qasr port. Halliburton, based in Houston, was once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney.

According to Andrew Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, other contracts to reconstruct Iraq’s water, electricity, roads and bridges will be awarded next week. About $30 million in contracts are to be awarded this week to 30 non-government organizations for the reconstruction effort.

Some of the corporations invited to bid on the larger contracts include Bechtel Group, Fluor Corp., Parsons Corp., Louis Berger Group and Washington Group International.

During a meeting Thursday between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush, Blair was expected to emphasize the importance of the United Nation’s role in reconstruction efforts and the need to allow international corporations to bid on contracts. Many European leaders are convinced U.N. involvement will ensure reconstruction efforts will be spread globally and not limited to the hands of a few American companies.