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Construction firm drops $325m contract

WASHINGTON -- An international construction company has pulled out of its contract to rebuild Iraq's transportation systems, deciding it was too dangerous to stay, a spokesman for the US-led reconstruction effort said yesterday.

Contrack International Inc. led a coalition of firms working on a $325 million contract to rebuild Iraq's roads, bridges, and railways. Contrack withdrew from that contract last month after a surge in attacks on reconstruction efforts, said Lieutenant Colonel Eric Schnaible of the Pentagon's Project and Contract Office in Baghdad.

"It's hard to do construction in a place where people are shooting at you or intimidating your workforce," Schnaible said in a telephone interview. "It's a challenge across the country."

The PCO has taken over management of about 18 subcontractors working on transportation projects, Schnaible said. He said Contrack's pullout was "a mutually agreed-to separation" and does not signal a larger movement by US-based companies to abandon Iraq.

"Some parts of the country are a whole lot more permissive than others," Schnaible said.

US firms and their workers have been targets ever since they entered Iraq last year. A deadly attack Tuesday on an Army dining hall near Mosul underscored the danger: Four of those killed were Americans working for the largest contractor in Iraq, Halliburton.

Workers for Iraq contractors have been killed by mortars, car bombs, and gunfire. Some have been kidnapped and beheaded.

Contrack president Karim Camel-Toueg did not immediately return telephone messages left at the company's Arlington, Va., offices yesterday.

Security concerns have been a major reason for the slow pace of reconstruction. Of the $18.4 billion in Iraq reconstruction money approved by Congress more than a year ago, less than $2 billion has been spent, PCO head Charles Hess said last month.

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