A couple of months ago I wrote about the fortress we (the US) are building in Baghdad. Besides being prime real estate along the Tigris, it is a massive and imposing facility with walls designed to "2.5 times the standard" thickness and "no-go" areas for enhanced security, the Embassy is substantial. While the GAO reports on staffing limits by various federal agencies as a result of sharing the burden of construction in some 150 Embassies around the world, the Baghdad Embassy will likely not suffer the same.
A week after submitting his FY2006 budget to Congress, the President sent Congress an FY2005 emergency supplemental funding request. Included in the supplemental is more than $1.3 billion for the embassy in Iraq: $690 million for logistical and security costs for the embassy in Baghdad and $658 million for construction of the new embassy compound there. Included in the latter are the costs of housing, a power plant, enhanced security, and expedited (24-month) construction.
While Baghdad, among other Iraqi cities, suffers from electricity shortages and water supply issues, the Embassy will not. The fact this is one of the few massive capital projects in the country that is on time and secured by Marines, not private security, has been noticed around the world, notably in Iraq itself. From the ArabNews, US Building Massive 104-Acre Embassy in Baghdad (28 April 2006):
Three years after a US-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein’s regime, only one major US building project in Iraq is on schedule and within budget: the massive new American Embassy compound…
The high-tech compound will have 21 buildings reinforced to 2.5 times usual standards. Some walls as said to be 15 feet thick or more. Scheduled for completion by June 2007, the installation is touted as not only the largest, but the most secure diplomatic embassy in the world.
…being built inside the heavily fortified Green Zone by 900 non-Iraqi foreign workers who are housed nearby and under the supervision of a Kuwaiti contractor…
…Work for the embassy was quietly awarded last summer to a controversial Kuwait-based construction firm, First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting (FKTC).
FKTC has been accused of exploiting employees and coercing low-paid laborers to work in Iraq.
Several of the US contractors competing for the Baghdad embassy project said they were amazed at the US State Department’s decision to award the contract to FKTC.
They say that some competing contractors possessed far stronger experience in such work and that at least one award-winning company offered to perform the all but the most classified work for $60 million to $70 million less than FKTC.
Several other contractors believe that a high-level decision at the State Department was made to favor a Kuwait-based firm in appreciation for Kuwait’s support of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
“It was political,” said one contractor.
My previous post on this noted some of the issues with the foreign workers and their conditions, notably the image of the US as an employer (why not employ locals? why house them in cramped conditions? why sweatshop-like conditions?) and as a provider. The political process and corrupt processes, which are now being investigated in Iraq, have clearly hurt our image and damaged our credibility.
While the American media talks about the problems with Custer Battles, KBR, and others who provided poor equipment, bad water, and shody services, the reality of the situation is the failure to create a livable environment. All the while, a project for the US goes humming along. A project that further insulates our outpost in comfort and away from the realities of the territory, nee country or state, in which it is placed.