U.S.-based engineering firm Bechtel Corporation says it is pulling its employees out of Iraq now that its three-year contract to rebuild the war-torn country has expired. The escalating violence in that country has delayed many reconstruction projects and has already claimed the lives of hundreds of contractors. Despite large multi-million dollar contracts awarded by the government to rebuild Iraq, some contractors are reassessing whether the business is worth the risk.
Bechtel has been one of the major players in Iraq, receiving more than $2 billion since 2003 to evaluate and rebuild Iraq's roads, power plants and government buildings. Since then, 52 Bechtel employees have been killed and 49 have been wounded. Although many lucrative projects remain unfinished, the increasing violence has forced many private contractors to evaluate the risks.
Kenneth Kurtz is the head of a private US security firm operating in Iraq. He says, "Many clients are at this time really assessing risk versus reward, so clients are making decisions whether or not this is worthwhile to complete the existing projects they have."
Many are choosing not to, saying the escalation of bombings and kidnappings has driven up costs and made it impossible, in some cases, to finish the work. As a result Stanford University Political Science Professor Michael McFaul says U.S. efforts to provide Iraqi's with the basic necessities have faltered.
"Basic infrastructure building has stopped and so what you accomplished in the first couple of years, you haven't seen any more incremental progress in any of the major dimensions of economic restructuring," says McFaul.
A classified document prepared by the U.S. Central Command shows why. The leaked civil conflict index -- published in the New York Times -- portrays Iraq as a country sliding towards chaos, with violence at an "all-time high and spreading". But White House Press Secretary Tony Snow says the snapshot does not show the complete picture. President Bush gave his own assessment in a recent speech. "We're winning, and we will win, unless we leave before the job is done. And the crucial battle right now is Iraq."
The U.S. government has spent an estimated $18 billion to rebuild Iraq. Nezar Alsayyad, at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, says unfortunately, there is not much to show for it. "No, absolutely not. I don't think we can say in any way that we have succeeded in rebuilding Iraq."
But Bechtel says its work is done. Of 99 government projects, Bechtel says the company has completed all but two projects because of security problems. Analysts say if the situation worsens, more contractors might be tempted to leave Iraq.