Sunday, October 7, 2007

Yet more problems, overruns and delays with the American embassy in Baghdad

The chickens of corruption just keep coming home to roost in the $529 million U.S. embassy/bunker complex in Baghdad.

Now it’s the sprinklers – when they tested them, pipes burst at the junctions.

The embassy is being constructed by First Kuwaiti General Trade and Contracting, and it has been embroiled in controversy and scandal practically since the groundbreaking. In May, when electrical systems were tested they failed, and an investigation revealed that First Kuwaiti was using counterfeit wiring that fell short of the specifications.

In September they were accused of engaging in a kickback scheme and in August the company was accused of abducting Filipinos and taking them to Baghdad to work on the construction of the embassy against their will.

The corruption of First Kuwaiti has not merely been enabled by Howard Krongard, the IG for State, he has aided and abetted the company in covering up shoddy workmanship and specious billing by impeding investigations into wrongdoing. The Inspector General has engaged in such egregious behavior that he now finds himself the focus of an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. In Henry Waxman’s crosshairs is no where for a partisan bureaucrat to be…

Former aids to Krongard have testified before the committee that Krongard did not pursue allegations that First Kuwaiti had a failed to construct blast-resistant external walls, as specified in the contract. In fact, the IG has taken the highly unusual step of investigating the charges involving the Filipino workers and First Kuwaiti himself.

The embassy, supposed to be the largest in the world, is supposed to eventually be the post of 1000 diplomats and embassy staff. It was scheduled to open last month, but the construction is so shoddy that the date of the opening has been postponed indefinitely.

Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte on Thursday complaining that he had been repeatedly assured that the building would meet its scheduled opening date last month. "Our new embassy compound in Iraq is apparently facing significant contractor deficiencies that will delay its opening for weeks or even months past its promised delivery date," Lantos wrote.

Sean McCormack, spokesman for the State Department said Friday that he could not say whether the delays were more than normal contracting delays, but he did indicate that Secretary Rice’s patience is wearing thin with the delays and the barrage of structural failures. "Obviously, with any large complex construction project, especially one that is happening in a difficult security environment, there is the possibility that the schedule will slide to the right," McCormack said. "Now, if you do end up well into 2008, certainly that is something that would raise questions in the secretary's mind, and I'm sure that she would want some answers. But at this point, I'm not aware we are at that point."

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