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A door closes to 3 war foes on Iraq work

WASHINGTON - France, Germany, and Russia, the three countries that spearheaded international opposition to the US-led war in Iraq, have been barred from competing for $18.6 billion worth of Iraqi reconstruction contracts, according to Pentagon guidelines issued last week and released yesterday.


Citing ``essential security interests of the United States,'' the five-page Pentagon document limits the bidding to the 63 countries, including the United States and Iraq, that are part of the US-led coalition reconstructing and occupying that country.

The decision to limit contracts raised again the issue of ongoing strained relations between the United States and some of its European allies over the war in Iraq.

``This totally gratuitous slap does nothing to protect our security interests and everything to alienate countries we need with us in Iraq,'' said Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

The Pentagon document notes that ``every effort must be made to expand international cooperation in Iraq,'' but restricts the number of countries that can have rebuilding contracts.

``It is necessary for the protection of the essential security interests of the United States to limit competition for prime contracts of these procurements to companies from the United States, Iraq, Coalition partners and force contributing nations,'' said the guidelines, which were signed Friday by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. ``Thus it is clearly in the public interest to limit prime contracts to companies from these countries.''

The guidelines list eligible countries, among them industrial powers such as the United States and the United Kingdom, but also countries like Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.

The money comes from the supplemental appropriations bill that President Bush signed into law last month. The contracts cover the reconstruction spectrum, including the oil industry, new power generation, rehabilitating electrical infrastructure, and water projects, and equipping the new Iraqi army.

Charles Krohn, an adviser to Admiral David Nash, who heads the coalition's reconstruction office, said that the limits are just on prime contracts and that any country can get subcontracts.

Martina Nibbeling-Wrieffnig, a spokeswoman for the German Embassy in Washington, said that ``German entrepreneurs and companies are already engaged in Iraq as subcontractors.''

The French Embassy had no comment.

``It's dumb because your objective is to get the best people in there for the best price,'' said Larry Korb, a Reagan administration defense official currently with the liberal Center for American Progress in Washington. ``And this business about security - it's nonsense. What, we don't trust Germany? The French - we trust them in Afghanistan.''

But Danielle Pletka, an Iraq specialist with the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, argued that France, Germany, and Russia were getting what they deserved after having done business with Saddam Hussein's regime.

``It's not entirely clear to me why any country that was comfortable with Saddam Hussein remaining in power should benefit from his demise,'' Pletka said.

``They took their profits and have excluded themselves from taking profits from his successors,'' she said. ``I haven't seen a persuasive argument that either of those three countries have a competitive advantage providing anything other than weapons and nuclear technology to Iraq.''

Robert Schlesinger can be reached at

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