Amidst the carnage and chaos that is post-invasion Iraq, one area of the economy is booming; that of the private ‘contractors’ hired to manage what the United States says is the reconstruction of the country. Companies such as Halliburton, Bechtel and DynCorp are making vast profits while signally failing to provide adequate services to either their paymasters, the American taxpayers or their putative clients, the Iraqi people.
In this meticulously researched book, Pratap Chatterjee tells a tale of squalid war profiteering and staggering incompetence. This is a world of ‘cost-plus’ contracts, where the contractor is paid expenses plus a guaranteed profit margin, rewarding overspending and encouraging corruption. Padded payrolls, shoddy and incomplete work and phantom convoys of empty trucks are the norm in this looking-glass world of ‘reconstruction’.
While the US corporations, in their heavily guarded enclaves, siphon off billions of dollars, ordinary Iraqis have to live in the real world of shattered infrastructure and non-existent security. The everyday reality of ruined hospitals and schools, rampant unemployment and shortages of power and clean water intensifies popular discontent and provides a flood of volunteers for the ever-growing insurgency. A rigged ‘democracy’ empowered only to sign further contracts with the same profiteers can only exacerbate the situation.
Drawing on interviews with Iraqi administrators, former soldiers and police, as well as an array of corporate whistleblowers, Chatterjee has amassed a powerful case that, by rewarding its big business backers and pursuing a ‘for-profit’ war, the Bush Administration has ensnared itself in an increasingly bloody scenario with no exit strategy. Many would call this brainless neo-colonialism; it certainly isn’t nation-building.