Indian companies look for role in post-war Iraq

Wednesday, 26 March 2003, 08:00 Hrs
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Indian firms hope to play a major role in the reconstruction of post-war Iraq, expected to reap billions of dollars, despite criticism that such moves would be like a "feast of the vultures".

NEW DELHI: If developments in Iraq evolve according to the U.S. script, a pro-U.S. government will replace President Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad and it will award all major reconstruction contracts to private U.S. corporations.

But India Inc says American companies would need to subcontract the projects, which will require large and skilled manpower.

The massive reconstruction programme will cover rehabilitation of roads, municipal water systems, ports and airports, government buildings, schools and irrigation -- estimated to cost $30 billion over a three-year period, though where the money will come from remains an unanswered question.

"We can be subcontracted. Indian companies have a good track record in the region in undertaking infrastructure projects like housing, power, railways and roads," said Krishan Kalra, additional secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

"We have the contacts, we have the network and we have a clear advantage over others because of our long association with the region and geographical proximity," Kalra told IANS.

He said Indian diplomatic missions as well as Indian business representatives in the region had already sounded FICCI and other business bodies about the possible role Indian business could play in the reconstruction of Iraq.

"War has been deplored by all, but at the same time reconstruction of the region is a necessity," he added.

Said a spokesperson of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII): "We are looking at reconstruction work in Iraq from a humanitarian as well as business opportunity angle."

Apart from reconstruction of war-shattered cities, Iraq would also require immediate and substantial supply of grains, medicines, shelter and other items as relief assistance.

The U.S. has already appointed a retired general, Jay Garner, as director of the newly created Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in the Pentagon. He is already in Kuwait and will oversee all civilian aid, reconstruction and governance in post-war Iraq.

There is loud criticism of the American move to corner all business in post-war Iraq. It has already offered $1.5 billion in work to private companies and awarded just $50 million to U.S. aid groups, like Save the Children, leaving out many large international organisations, according to Western newspaper reports.

British officials are said to have questioned the exclusion of British companies in the reconstruction programme despite Prime Minister Tony Blair's support for the Iraq invasion.

Bernard Kouchner, former U.N. special representative in Kosovo, was quoted as saying in the International Herald Tribune that the Bush administration would be short sighted if it excluded other nations, especially those from Europe.

Egypt and Jordan have been lobbying for inclusion of their companies in the reconstruction programme without success.

"They are already screaming in the Middle East - 'you call us corrupt, look at you giving contracts to American companies and no one else,'" the paper quoted Frances Cook, a former U.S. ambassador to Oman, as saying.

The companies that have been asked to bid for contracts include Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton Company, which Vice-President Dick Cheney once headed.

Other U.S. companies in the race are the Louis Berger Group, Bechtel Group, Parson Corporation and Washington Group International.

A reported comment by U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill in an interview that America had offered India a role in the reconstruction of post-war Iraq had led to strong criticism by opposition parties here, with one describing it as an "invitation to the feast of vultures".

The U.S. embassy, however, denied that the envoy had made the remarks attributed to him.
Source: IANS

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