The delay in awarding the capital construction contract is stimulating speculation that the project is being affected by the debate about the long-term future of Iraq, which got under way on 15 April in Nasiriyah in an initial meeting of political groups. The contract, which calls for a wide range of work on Iraq’s degraded and war-damaged infrastructure, was put out to tender to a restricted list of US engineering firms. Fluor Daniel, Kellogg Brown & Root, Perini International, Parsons Engineering Corporation, Louis Berger Internationaland Bechtel received requests for proposals. Contractors say the frontrunners for the contract are Bechtel and Parsons.

More tangible progress has been made on two other USAID contract packages. Research Triangle Institute (RTI), a North California firm, has been awarded an initial $7.9 million contract to promote Iraqi participation in reconstruction. The job calls for RTI to provide technical assistance to local governments, civic institutions and civil society.

USAID has also awarded an initial $2 million, 12-month contract to Creative Associates International Incorporated (CAII), a Washington-based consultancy firm, for rehabilitating the Iraqi education system under the Revitalisation of Iraqi Schools and Stabilisation of Education (RISE) programme. The agency said that it is the US government’s goal to ensure that children are prepared for the new school year starting in September.

USAID said that both jobs are for the first stages of reconstruction and that they might be extended. The first two of the USAID reconstruction contracts are now being implemented. Washington-based I nternational Resources Group (IRG) has a $7.1 million, 12-month personnel support contract, while Stevedoring Services of America (SSA) has the $4.8 million contract to administer Umm Qasr port (MEED 25:3:03; 12:3:03). The US subsidiary of Crown Agents of the UK has a subcontract from IRG for logistics services.

The USAID said in a statement on 12 April that it is considering a plan to offer three further reconstruction contracts, in agriculture services, economic advice and for monitoring the construction contract. The agency said that a total of 21 US firms had been invited to bid for the initial eight contracts and only the IRG job had been let on a sole supplier basis. A relaxation of US federal agency regulations in January means that up to 50 per cent of the value of the contracts can be let to non-US firms.