U.S.: Most Iraqi laborers afraid to report for work

Wedesday, May 26, 2004

The fear of being killed or injured in insurgency attacks has resulted in an absenteeism rate of 75 percent among Iraqi laborers hired by the United States.

U.S. officials said that even at the height of the suicide bombing campaign in April 2004, U.S. projects to reconstruct Iraq were not halted. Still, they said, most Iraqi laborers refused to report to work.

"It's had an impact on how many people show up to work, and it went down to where we were at about 25 percent of what we had been at one time, in terms of Iraqi employees on the job," David Nash, head of the Program Management Office of the Coalition Provisional Authority, said.

Nash said Iraqi contractors have been threatened by insurgency groups. He said the threat has eased over the last month and that 75 percent of Iraqis employed for the CPA have been reporting to work. This comprised about 8,000 employees out of nearly 10,000 laborers recruited.

Officials said the CPA has focused on refurbishing Iraq's electricity network and the construction of security facilities. The security facilities include buildings for the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and the new military.

Nash, a retired admiral, said private security contractors continue to play a role in protecting CPA projects in Iraq. He said contractors have been integrated with the military and police to bolster security and ensure coordination.

"We've now integrated the security of the military and the police and the contractors into a net that we can take advantage of everybody because I'm not only concerned about security for our people from the enemy, but I also want to make sure that we're totally coordinated so we don't have any friendly fire incidences," Nash said.

But industry sources said U.S. contractors have been leaving Baghdad over the last few weeks because of the fear of Sunni or Shi'ite attack. The sources said the flight of the contractors raises doubts over whether the billions of dollars allocated for Iraqi reconstruction will be spent. About 15 percent of the funds were meant for security.

"Security is quickly becoming the X-factor that is impeding and complicating the reconstruction effort," Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in a statement. "Many people predicted these problems back when the [Bush] administration made its request for far more money than it could effectively spend. The reality on the ground is illustrative of the many needless mistakes that have created the mess we face today."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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