Money from Marines means more jobs for Iraqis

9 Jul 2003 | Army Sgt. Mike Sweet

With the stroke of a pen and hand shakes all around, the First Marine Expeditionary Force July 9 awarded more than $200,000 in contracts to three Iraqi construction companies.

The pacts marked one of the largest contracting packages since reconstruction efforts began in Iraq more than two months ago.

The three firms will concentrate on repairs to the Manather General Hospital and several police stations in the governate of Najaf. Medical and police services are an obvious priority to both the Coalition Provisional Authority, which is overseeing reconstruction and humanitarian efforts in Iraq, said Army Maj. Michael M. Laabs, the projects officer for the government support team in Najaf. 

"We want you to get started right away," said Laabs to one of the contactors who wanted clarification of the work timeline. "The sooner the better."

Although each scope of contract is different, most of the projects should be completed within 100 days, according to Laabs, an Army reservist from Denmark, Wis.  

In addition to improving one of the hospitals and giving local law enforcement officials adequate workspaces, the contracts will bolster the local economy as well.

"We have been paying our engineers even though we have not had any work for them," said Ayad K. Sewan, co-owner of the Al Balqaa Co., which was awarded a $42,345 contract to repair the main police station in Najaf.  "This is good to get them back to work."

Learning how to negotiate through the red tape of the bidding processes can be frustrating to Iraq firms who are not use to dealing with Americans.

One thing that frustrated Abdual Sahib K.A., the other partner in Al Balqaa Co., was the fact that when they were developing the bid for this project, they were confused on what the specifications for needed materials.

"At first we were quoting them on materials like the paint that was already here," Sahib said.  "We ended up coming back maybe 20 times before we understood."

Although the process was frustrating, Sahib was impressed with the government support team members' willingness to work with them.

"They really did more than they had too," said Sahib.  "The people here were very cooperative."

If the Iraqis are somewhat confused by the all of the coalition requirements, the same can be said for coalition officers trying to get the projects off the ground.  Right before Shadeed U Mohammed signed a contract to repair one of the police stations in Najaf for the Al-Huda Co., he noticed a mistake in the Arabic translation of his contract.

"You are going to pay me 125% today," said Mohammed.

The small group of coalition representatives looked at him with confusion until he pointed out that the contract said that his company would be paid 125% of the project's cost instead of the previously agreed to 25%.

With a quick correction with a pen and all was fixed.

"A less honest man would have signed the contract and then sued us later," said Army Lt. Col. Bryan A. Groves, the civil affairs liaison officer for the First Marine Division.  He is responsible for ensuring that all the contracts are executed properly.

Even with these minor problems everyone left satisfied. Sahib said his company would continue to compete for more projects.

"Right now we have five or six bids with the coalition in now," he said.