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Amid Violence, Iraq Reconstruction Endures

Mon November 17, 2003 - Northeast Edition
Pete Sigmund



Amid the violence in Iraq, the U.S. construction industry is playing a major role in the battle to reconstruct the country’s power and water facilities, bridges, roads, schools and other infrastructure. This effort, using mostly Iraqi subcontractors, also is regarded as an important step toward reconstructing the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

Bechtel National Inc., the government services business unit of the Bechtel Group in San Francisco, CA, is managing a massive repair and rehabilitation effort, which will employ many thousands of Iraqis under a $1-billion contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the agency in charge of the Iraq Infrastructure Reconstruction Program. USAID’s Iraq mission director, Lew Lucke, reports administratively to both the Department of State and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) under L. Paul Bremer III.

Congress recently approved an $87.5-billion supplemental aid package for Iraq, including $18.4 billion for reconstruction.

“The reconstruction effort is moving forward very successfully,” Luke Zahner, a spokesperson of USAID in Washington, D.C., told Construction Equipment Guide (CEG). “We have brought the power grid to its pre-war level and 1,300 of the 1,595 schools, which we rehabbed, opened on October 1 for one million elementary and high school students.”

As of Oct. 24, Bechtel had awarded 149 subcontracts, of which 110 went to Iraqi firms. Iraqi subcontractors will handle approximately 70 percent of the reconstruction effort.

More than 10,300 companies have registered with Bechtel as being interested in participating in the reconstruction. Bechtel has approximately 600 expatriate (non-Iraqi foreign) and approximately 60 U.S. citizens supervising work in Iraq. It is training Iraqis in engineering and management skills so they can run the infrastructure themselves.

“We’re not talking about a country that needs to be built from scrap,” Zahner said. “Iraq needs a lot of work, but the basics are in place for accomplishing the job.”

In supplying subcontractors, Iraq has one of the most highly-educated populations in the Arab world. Bechtel said the Iraqis have responded enthusiastically to the challenge and that their accomplishments in rebuilding the infrastructure for economic growth and humanitarian aid are a hopeful step toward greater support among the general populace (see A Signature Project).

Iraq’s food rationing system alone requires transporting approximately half a million tons of food per month to food rationing distribution centers used by approximately 60 percent of the population. The United States is believed to be the largest contributor to the UN/World Food Program for Iraq with USAID having donated a total of 575,320 metric tons of food.

If President Bush were to visit Iraq, and address the Iraqi people, he could point to many construction/rehab projects benefiting them, including:

Oil

Kellogg, Brown & Root and other contractors are restoring the petroleum infrastructure. Oil production reached 550,000 barrels per day (b/d) in September at Kirkuk and other fields in northern Iraq, and 1.3 billion b/d in southern Iraq.

The U.S. Department of Commerce says that restoration of significant production means that “Iraq has the potential to earn between $10 billion and $15 billion annually over the next several years” and that “the development of Iraq’s vast oil reserves will spur the country’s economic recovery and future growth.”

The department says Iraq has an estimated 112-billion barrels of oil reserves, the world’s second largest after Saudi Arabia, and that undiscovered resources may increase this figure to as high as 200-billion barrels, so that it can potentially produce 6 million b/d.

Power Plants

After Saddam Hussein fell, looters left many power facilities, which had suffered decades of neglect and mismanagement, in shambles. Engineers from Bechtel, USAID, the Iraqi Electric Commission and the Corps of Engineers have been gradually restoring Iraq’s power capacity since last May

“The first benchmark was bringing capacity past pre-war levels of 4,400 megawatts [MW]; we accomplished this on October 6, when power generation peaked at 4,518 megawatts,” Zahner said. “The CPA has laid out a future goal of 6,000 megawatts of power by the summer of 2004.”

The combined Iraqi-American power team is rehabbing the Doura power plant in Baghdad and the plant at Bayji, repairing thermal and gas units. Bechtel is constructing three new plants, with 11 individual 40 MW units, at Kirkuk, Mussayyib, and South Baghdad. This power program, to be complete by December 2004, is creating 4,000 temporary and approximately 250 permanent jobs. It is expected to employ approximately 68 Iraqi and 15 international subcontractors.

“The work has meant reconnecting power lines, rehabilitating the network, and ensuring that distribution of electricity is more equitable among the different regions,” Zahner told CEG. “The electrical grid had been deteriorating steadily for the past two decades, since the Iran-Iraq War. Completely revamping the facilities will be an ongoing process over a long period of time. It’s not only necessary as the economy grows and more factories come on line and need electricity, but you must compensate for the loss of investment over the past 20 years while the country poured everything into the military.”

The reconstruction, rehab and upgrade program includes generating more power, plus transmitting and distributing it. It’s also completing procurement of materials, which had begun under the United Nations Oil-for-Food program, and it’s providing spare parts and maintenance, which had been long-neglected.

More than 900 “power police,” including 245 in Baghdad, have been deployed to provide security at key sites.

Water and Wastewater

Restoring water and sanitation systems, to ensure a reliable supply of potable water to the general public, is still an urgent priority.

One of the problems has been a lack of electricity to run the utility systems.

“As long as electricity has been problematic, sanitation has been problematic,” Zahner said. “Also, the Tigris River has been treated as an open sewer for decades now. It will take years to clean this up; it’s not something that the U.S. will be able to fix in six months. Just the immediate investments we’ve made to the electric grid, working with the CPA to establish generator capacity, are enormous steps to make sure the Iraqis have clean water. The fact that there has been no outbreak of cholera or other waterborne diseases is another indication that a crisis was indeed averted.”

The USAID program, which has a scheduled completion date of December 2004, aims at restoring potable water to Baghdad and six other urban centers: Mosul, Ad Diwaniyah, Al Hillah, An Najaf, Karbala, and Al Basrah.

Bechtel began by inspecting water facilities at urban centers across Iraq. The company then developed a strategy for removing the pollution load entering the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and started systematically improving water supply systems, from source to treatment. The water and wastewater program is creating jobs for 3,000 skilled and unskilled workers, and will employ at least 20 Iraqi subcontractors.

In September, good water came again for the 40,000 residents of Safwan. Baghdad is to receive an additional 225,000 cubic meters a day by May 2004 under a project to expand the city’s “Sabah Nissana” water plant.

The sewage system for Baghdad, which has 2.6 million residents, is being refurbished, with funding by USAID and the CPA. Seventy of the city’s 90 non-functioning waste pumping stations are being rehabbed. Iraq’s largest wastewater treatment facility, Rustimiyah, is being restored.

USAID says teams also have repaired more than 1,700 critical breaks in Baghdad’s water network, increasing flow by 200,000 cubic meters per day.

In the southern city of Al Basrah, refurbishment of the water supply system for 1.2 million residents includes cleaning, dredging and repairing the supporting infrastructure of the Sweet Water Canal, and rehabbing network pump stations and treatment plants. The canal is currently running at less than half capacity.

By about this time next year, approximately 20 water treatment plants and numerous water pump stations and distribution systems are to be restored to full capacity, and approximately 85 percent of Iraq’s sewage treatment capacity is expected to be operating. USAID says the water and sanitation projects will benefit more than 14.5 million Iraqis.

Bridges

Iraq has more than 1,100 bridges over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and their tributaries. Many need rehabilitation. The immediate focus, however, is on three critical bridges which were damaged in the recent conflict.

Using Iraqi subs, Bechtel is reconstructing these three priority bridges after demolishing irreparable sections.

The Al Mat Bridge, a key link on Highway 10 near Ar Rutbah in western Iraq is the main route between Iraq and Jordan. USAID says this pair of dual-lane bridges, which carry more than 3,000 trucks a day, often transporting humanitarian goods, “was in imminent danger of collapse.” It’s expected to reopen in February or March, hopefully in time to beat the rainy season which would make the Wadi River impassable.

Dijla Precast Concrete Co., founded in Baghdad in 1952 but forced to leave by Saddam Hussein, has returned to Iraq as the Concrete Works Co. and is supplying the bridge beams. Bechtel said this company will now be “a viable source of precast and prestressed concrete products for future heavy civil work in Iraq.”

The Khazir Bridge between Mosul and Arbil, which is considered “critical to the flow of fuel and agricultural products in the North Region.” A subcontractor is scheduled to complete this pair of dual-lane bridges by February 2004.

The two-lane Tikrit Bridge is an important link for passengers and commerce over the Tigris on the road to the oil fields of Kirkuk. Two spans on the upstream side of this bridge were heavily damaged. Bechtel has been working on the engineering solution while the subcontractor fabricates replacement beams and demolishes downed spans. Because original drawings aren’t available, Bechtel is recreating detailed engineering drawings from field measurements to guide fabrication of replacement trusses. Target date for completion is April 2004.

Using an Iraqi subcontractor, Bechtel completed a 1.5-km, four-lane bypass for Al Mat last summer.

A floating bridge over the Tigris in Al Cut also has been repaired, improving traffic for approximately 50,000 travelers a day.

Roads

Most of Iraq’s 24,000 miles of roads and highways, 85 percent of which are paved, were built in the 1970s and 1980s and have received little maintenance.

USAID says that “Many miles of road [in Iraq] will need to be repaired in the near term.” These include many of the primary four-lane roads between Baghdad and Iraq’s main cities, which were often built for troop movements, plus many unpaved secondary roads.

A 94-mi. missing section of the six-lane expressway between Baghdad, Basra and Jordan also needs to be completed.

Schools

USAID has managed a nationwide school rehab program, which employed 30,000 Iraqis. Approximately 1 million students returned to safe and secure schools on Oct. 1.

USAID says a total of 1,595 primary and secondary schools throughout Iraq have been repaired, approximately 1,200 by Bechtel and others by Creative Associates International, Washington, D.C., under its $62-million contract from USAID, or by non-governmental associations like Mercy Corps International.

The work involved 218 grants worth $3.28 million.

The agency also has delivered 75 percent of 1.5 million secondary student kits, which are needed, 50 percent of 808,000 primary student kits, 75 percent of 81,755 primary teacher kits, 75 percent of 241,000 pieces of secondary school furniture, and 33 percent of 58,000 needed chalkboards.

Iraqi engineers and contractors have done most of the school projects, which included repairing floors, walls, ceilings and windows, lighting, water supplies, and lavatories. This has allowed Bechtel to transfer management expertise and current practices to the Iraqi engineering and construction industry, with the Iraq Ministry of Housing and Construction assisting in supervision with its own engineers.

Approximately 100 health clinics and 15 fire stations also are being rehabbed.

Airports

All of Iraq’s 108 airports, including the international ones at Baghdad and Basra, and major domestic airports at Mosul, Kirkuk and Irbil, are “severely outdated,” USAID said. International commercial flights haven’t operated in the country for 13 years. Outdated equipment, especially for air traffic control, needs to be replaced.

Bechtel assisted several partners in rehabbing Baghdad International Airport after the end of major combat. This included repairing runways, refurbishing Terminal C, installing power generators and establishing an air traffic control communications system.

SkyLink Air and Logistic Support (USA) Inc., is assessing and managing five airports, developing smooth airfreight and passenger service.

Rail

Bechtel and Iraqi Republic Railways (IRR) are jointly constructing a new European standard rail line in the Basrah region to improve freight transport from the Port of Umm Qasr to the rest of the country. The single-track line has not been upgraded since the 1950s.

The program, to be completed by the end of 2004, includes building 72 km of new UIC 60-standard track between the port and Shuiba Junction, near Basrah.

Bechtel is training IRR people in track construction and maintenance

Iraq has five rail lines, and approximately 1,525 mi. of rail line, approximately half of which is in poor condition. Many of its 107 stations, as well as maintenance shops, were looted. Approximately 10 trains run per day. The new rail program will improve this to 30 per day, and increase speeds from 30 to 90 kmh.

Iraq’s rolling stock has deteriorated severely over the past decade. It has approximately 150 operable locomotives, 150 passenger cars, and 8,000 flatbeds.

Seaports

Shipments of food and other goods in a massive humanitarian aid program are vital to making a new Iraq work, and they are succeeding.

Iraq has six ports, but only one deep-water harbor — at Umm Qasr. When Bechtel engineers entered Iraq last May, they found everything rundown. There was no commercial power or water supply. Ships sunk during the Iran-Iraq war partially blocked the entrance to the port. The channel was silted up.

Through subcontractors, Bechtel dredged the channel to 12.5 meters to accommodate large ships and removed one major wreck and three smaller vessels. The port’s large grain facility has been reconstructed, and can now unload up to 60,000 tons of grain at a time. Bechtel said Umm Qasr is now fully operational.

Telecommunications

The USAID/Bechtel program is restoring 12 destroyed telephone exchanges, and reconnecting 240,000 telephone subscribers in Baghdad, who represent more than 20 percent of the installed telephones in Iraq. The program also has included installing an international satellite gateway in Baghdad and restoring the fiber optic backbone connecting Iraqi cities.

Bechtel Responds

Bechtel has responded forcefully to a Newsweek article titled, “Bush’s $87 Billion Mess,” saying it was “clearly a story in search of failures” and insulted the men and women working in Iraq at great personal cost because they are doing something right.”

Bechtel won its limited bidding contract in competition among 21 firms.