Embassy’s are representative of the state. So what does the new American Embassy in Baghdad say?

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.

Funding for this project has not been a problem. According to an April 2005 CRS report (and previous March report),

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.

One thought on “Embassy’s are representative of the state. So what does the new American Embassy in Baghdad say?

  1. You had an interest in labor trafficking under US contractors. Here’s the latest!http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14173
    Based on interviews with sources that range from more than a half dozen former First Kuwaiti employees to numerous competing contractors, this latest CorpWatch investigation reveals complaints about the deceptive trafficking operation and the horrid working conditions faced by the people on-the-ground in Iraq.
    “The possibility that a company under a US State Department contract is trafficking and smuggling workers into a war zone is an insult the values that most Americans support and die for. The fact that the accused contractor, First Kuwaiti Trading and Contracting, is building the $592-million US embassy – perhaps the most high-profile symbol of US presence in Iraq – is doubly astounding” says journalist David Phinney.
    * Witnesses say First Kuwaiti has smuggled low-paid Asian workers on planes toBaghdad after taking away their passports and issuing airplane boarding passes for Dubai. Taking passports is a violation of US trafficking laws and contracting.
    * First Kuwaiti has coerced low-paid workers to take jobs in Iraq against their wishes after recruiters lured them to Kuwait for different jobs. (Interviews with Filipino workers who escaped Iraq available.)
    * Although no journalist is allowed on embassy site, prostitutes are smuggled in by First Kuwaiti managers, according to former employees. Prostitutes are a “breach of security,” says one former manager for the company.
    * An American medic recommended that health clinics serving thousands of embassy construction workers be shut down for unsanitary conditions and then was fired. He also requested the investigation of two workers who may have died from mistreatment. Prescription pain killers were handed out like “candy” and workers were sent back to work on project, he says.
    * There have been numerous beatings of workers by First Kuwaiti managers and labor strikes, say former employees. This reflects complaints of others who witnessed mistreatment on other projects.

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