Contract Shun

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 10 2003 4:54 AM

Contract Shun

The New York Times and Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with a Defense Department memo stating that only "coalition partners" will be eligible to compete for the $18.6 billion in Iraq reconstruction work; Russia, Germany, and France, which all opposed the war, aren't on the list. The policy doesn't affect subcontractors. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who wrote the memo, explained that banning countries from eligibility "is necessary for the protection of the essential security interests of the United States." The Washington Post's top nonlocal story goes with the White House's continued warnings to Taiwan not to go ahead with a referendum that could increase calls for independence. Taiwan's president said he's not going to cancel the vote. USA Today leads with word that New Hampshire's Republican governor and the Democratic mayor of Boston launched programs to import prescription pills from Canada despite the FDA's ban against that. "It's illegal," said Boston's mayor. "But it's about time we forced the issue." The Los Angeles Times' lead says Gov. Schwarzenegger has "backed off" on two of his campaign promises, namely that he would reimburse local governments for the loss of the car tax and that he wouldn't cut spending on public schools.

In a point raised in the blog-world but not in the papers (at least that TP saw): While the Pentagon has cut off Russia, Germany, and France from primary reconstruction contracts, the U.S. has been pushing those countries to forgive the roughly $7 billion they're owed by Iraq. Most of the papers mention that Wolfowitz's memo is available on a Pentagon Web site. But none of them actually link to it.

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As the papers all note, three Iraqis were killed when a bomb exploded outside a Sunni mosque in Baghdad. The LAT has a detailed piece in the attack and Sunni-Shiite tensions. Also, a suicide bomber attacked a U.S. field hospital near Baghdad, slightly wounding seven soldiers. That's in addition to a suicide bombing early Tuesday near Mosul that lightly wounded about 50 GIs. Finally, a U.S. recon chopper crash-landed after it was hit by small arms fire. 

A front-page piece in the LAT details Pentagon planners' worries about the coming rotation of GIs from Iraq over the next few months, during which nearly all the troops there will be replaced. "It's appropriate to be worried about it," said Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. "The people going over are ready, but the people there are experienced and really know their stuff. And who would you rather have there?"

About 40 percent of the troops heading in will be reservists compared with about 20 percent of the force there now.

In a helpful bit of context, the LAT explains that the Pentagon is stuck doing such a massive swap because 1) it promised troops that they wouldn't have to serve longer than 12 months; 2) the military is shifting whole units in and out rather than just individuals as it did, infamously, during Vietnam.

The NYT goes above the fold with documents (not posted online) showing that Halliburton is charging the U.S. $2.64 per gallon to import fuel into Iraq from Kuwait, more than twice the amount it costs Iraq's state oil company and a Pentagon agency to do the same thing. Halliburton defended the charges, pointing out that 20 of their fuel trucks have been damaged or stolen. The company subcontracts the work and keeps 24 cents a gallon as a "mark-up," an apparent profit that shocked one American oil economist: "I have never seen anything like this in my life. That's a monopoly premium—that's the only term to describe it." Halliburton, which was given a no-bid contract for the work back in March, said the mark-up isn't really a profit since it doesn't include administrative costs. 

The WP fronts word that Iraq's Governing Council voted to create a special court to try members of Saddam's regime who were involved in atrocities and other misdeeds. Unlike other such tribunals, the court will be staffed by domestic (that is, Iraqi) judges and prosecutors. The White House supports the plan, but many international human-rights groups oppose it, arguing that Iraq's legal system is too corrupt and inexperienced.

The LAT mentions that the GC fired the governor of Babylon (a real province), charging that he was a high-up Baathist. Iraq boss Paul Bremer overruled a previous attempt to do to that, saying that the governor was doing a good job.  

The WSJ notes that President Bush is stepping back from his pledge of lots of foreign aid to fight AIDS and poverty. According to the Journal, the White House is budgeting $2.5 billion next year for the Millennium Challenge Account, an initiative to reward good governance abroad. That's about half what the president promised.

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