Friday, July 18, 2008

Shoddy construction in Iraq? Who would have thought?

The surge might be succeeding, but news that five U.S. senators have asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates for an independent review of electrical work by KBR Inc. at U.S. bases in Iraq after the electrocution of more than a dozen soldiers is another reminder of the incompetence and waste that has characterized the 2003 invasion. The Reuters international news agency reported Friday that the five senators -- Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Maria Cantwell of Washington, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota -- have called on the Pentagon to employ an independent overseer to review the contractor's work. KBR Inc., the largest private contractor operating under contract to the U.S. military in Iraq, was spun off last year from Haliburton Inc., Dick Cheney's employer before he became Vice President. KBR has previously been accused overbilling and providing unsafe water to soldiers, Reuters said. In a letter to Robert Gates, the defense secretary, the senators said Houston-based KBR should not be inspecting its own work but that inspection responsibility should be given to a "well-qualified and objective" party. The Pentagon acknowledged that KBR was inspecting its own work, Reuters said, but said the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies also reviewed the work. Dorgan said KBR should be suspended. A KBR spokeswoman said the company had found no link between its work and the electrocutions, Reuters said. The New York Times said the Pentagon knew about problems with KBR's work but did little to respond to them until a member of the Green Berets was electrocuted while taking a shower in January.

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