Listen to the audio file of Alexander Downer on AM on Monday morning if you can. Downer sounded the most petulant you would have heard him in a long, long time when he announced in London that the Australian Embassy in Iraq will move into the US-controlled Green Zone.

Behind the Green Zone


Subscriber email – 31 January

Lex said the decision to move the embassy into the Green Zone was made on January 19, the same day the embassy was attacked by a suicide bomber – and that criticism from Opposition Leader Kim Beazley prompted him to confirm the move, something security reasons prevented him from revealing earlier.

“We tend not to want to talk more than is entirely necessary than the movements of our people in Iraq but since Mr Beazley, on returning to the Labor Party leadership, has decided he wants to make a party political issue out of this, let me just make it clear that that is what the situation is,” he whined.

However, did a humiliating paragraph from a pro-war British newspaper last month play any part in the decision? How did the London Spectator decide to demonstrate just how chaotic the situation in Iraq mid-December? With this little line:

“When Robert Hill, Australian defence minister, landed at Baghdad airport last week, he was told that it was too dangerous for him to make the journey to the Australian embassy.”

How too, too utterly cringe-making!

Meanwhile a subscriber writes:

The Government decided in May 2003 to move the Australian embassy in Iraq to the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ enclave of the Green Zone.

Alexander Downer on Friday in a doorstop interview: “Mr Beazley says that the troops should stay protecting our diplomats for as long as our Embassy is there, but we shouldn’t keep an Embassy there much longer unless we can establish the Embassy in the Green Zone. We are trying to do that as fast as we can, but we are dealing with the constraints of the contractors being able to do their job.”

Who are these contractors? Not just any old building mob with a few trowels and such can whack up a new embassy.

Major General Charles Williams (retired) is the Director, Overseas Buildings Operations for the U.S. Department of State. He informed the Industrial College of the Armed Forces’ Construction Industry Study for 2003, that:

“Embassy construction continues to be a growth area. The recent trend in embassy construction contracts is towards Design-Build, versus the traditional method of Design-Bid-Build. The State Department’s Overseas Building Operations (OBO) office saved $70 million last fiscal year by implementing best business practices.”

Implementing best business practices seems to mean ‘no bid contracting’ in this case. A ‘no bid’ handed to you on a plate contract is a pretty attractive proposition.

We know that no Australian construction companies have been in Iraq since four Patrick Corporation staff made an evaluation and then promptly left. So no local firm would seem to have got the difficult Green Zone embassy construction job.

According to a report in The Courier Mail last week, “AMERICAN building contractors are holding up the construction of Australia’s new embassy in Baghdad’s highly fortified Green Zone”.

But that doesn’t quite answer the question. Which American building contractors are holding up the construction of our new embassy within the relative safety of the Green Zone?

American firms control Iraq’s reconstruction projects and the largest American contractor is Halliburton, which was once headed by US Vice-President Dick Cheney. He’s an impressive man. I know this first hand, because in 1997 I shook the hand of my past employer’s new President when he visited his company’s acquisition in Sydney.

The diversity of work undertaken by our new parent was impressive too. I remember looking at the corporate gift catalogue, seeing the range of camouflage gear and thinking (like recently married Rove McManus) “What the …?”

So does a Halliburton company have the contract to manage the ‘Design-Build’ of the new embassy? Does any ordinary Australian know who has that contract? Will we ever be told?

Not surprisingly it is difficult to discover who is actually building our new embassy. But in the search I did find the Department of State’s Solicitation for the Design-Build and Construction of a New U.S. Embassy Complex Baghdad, Iraq. It was issued on 22 December 2004, pre- qualification will soon occur and multiple contracts are expected to be awarded by Easter.

Mr Downer and his people should keep a keen eye on construction of this new embassy contract and see whether it too is plagued by “the constraints of the contractors being able to do their job”. We will.

Craig Rowley