Halliburton won’t bid on Iraqi reconstruction

After weeks of controversy centering on a $600 million Iraq reconstruction contract and the Bush administration’s closed-door negotiations, Houston-based Halliburton recently declined its invitation to bid. Halliburton, instead, will contend to become a secondary contractor.

Halliburton has received negative media coverage because of the company’s relationship to the Bush administration. Vice President Dick Cheney was chief executive officer from 1995 to 2000. Halliburton officials won’t say if the decision was related to the controversy.

Halliburton’s subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root is currently under a federal contract to extinguish oil well fires in Iraq.

“If you separate out the Cheney issue, it [choosing a firm with post-war experience] makes a lot of sense,” Bathsheba Crocker, an employee at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Associated Press. “But at the same time, you can’t separate out the Cheney issue as a political matter. It’s obviously why they’re in political hot water.”

Criticism began when the U.S. Agency for International Development invited select contractors to bid on the reconstruction work in Iraq — construction work that is expected to take over 21 months. While the firms weren’t identified by USAID, The Wall Street Journal identified the invitation list, including KBR, Bechtel Group, Parsons Corp., Louis Berger Group, Fluor Corp. and Washington Group International.

The head of the State Department’s USAID argued the invitations were meant only to expedite the process, and that the companies invited were a small group of well-experienced firms that are top contenders for prime contracts.

The Center of Responsive Politics, a group that tracks political donations, told The Associated Press the companies that received invitations to bid, and individuals associated with them, made $3.5 million in political contributions from 1999 to 2000. Two-thirds of those contributions went to Republicans.

Members of the United Nations and British Prime Minister Tony Blair have urged the Bush administration to involve international corporations in the reconstruction of Iraq. On March 25 President Bush waived a law that restricted reconstruction work to American firms.