Privatization Endangering Our Troops in Iraq

Our troops are in danger and several have already died from shoddy electrical work by privatized contractors in Iraq according to an article in yesterday’s New York Times.

Over 283 electrical fires that destroyed or damaged American military facilities were reported in just a 6 month period from August 2006 – January 2007, including the military’s largest dining hall in the country, according to Times research. The article said the Pentagon has reported that 13 Americans have been electrocuted and many more injured.

Electrical problems were the most urgent noncombat safety hazard for soldiers in Iraq, according to an Army survey issued in February 2007. It noted “a safety threat theaterwide created by the poor-quality electrical fixtures procured and installed, sometimes incorrectly, thus resulting in a significant number of fires.”

 A Green Beret Staff Sergeant, Ryan D. Maseth, was electrocuted in January while showering due to poor electrical grounding.  Two soldiers in a nearby building had narrowly escaped an electrical fire caused by faulty wiring just two weeks before Sgt. Maseth’s death.

KBR, the Houston-based company responsible for providing electrical and other basic services for American troops in Iraq, claim they have found no link between their work and the electrocutions, even though their own study found a “systematic problem” with their electrical work. Pentagon officials who have been pressured into looking into Sgt. Maseth’s electrocution are also trying to deny the widespread danger from faulty wiring on Iraq bases have anything to do with his death.


In another internal document written after Sergeant Maseth’s death, a senior Army officer in Baghdad warned that soldiers had to be moved immediately from several buildings because of electrical risks. In a memo asking for emergency repairs at three buildings, the official warned of a “clear and present danger,” adding, “Exposed wiring, ungrounded distribution panels and inappropriate lighting fixtures render these facilities uninhabitable and unsafe.”

The memo added that “over the course of several months, electrical fires and shorts have compounded these unsafe conditions.”

According to the New York Times article, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 KBR and other contractors have been paid millions to repair and upgrade the Iraqi buildings our troops are housed in.

Millions of dollars, yet lame excuses as to why the work could not be done correctly:

Officials say the administration contracted out so much work in Iraq that companies like KBR were simply overwhelmed by the scale of the operations. Some of the electrical work, for example, was turned over to subcontractors, some of which hired unskilled Iraqis who were paid only a few dollars a day.

Government officials responsible for contract oversight, meanwhile, were also unable to keep up, so that unsafe electrical work was not challenged by government auditors.

Oops, our subcontractors hired unskilled labors for a few bucks a day!  Oops, the government inspectors couldn’t keep up with checking the work! 

Now, I’m just trying to imagine if we had similar problems with widespread faulty wiring with a number of new condos going up here in Seattle.  Residents getting routinely shocked, and occasionally electrocuted in their showers, or forced to flee while their unit is destroyed in a fire.  Then the condo builders claimed, “Oops, our subcontractors hired unskilled laborers for dollars a day, not our fault!”  I also try to imagine our city officials saying, “Oops, there are just too many condos going up and our inspectors just don’t have time to inspect all of them!”  Of course, the next thing I imagine is the lawsuits against both the contractors and the city.  I’m not sure if our military members can sue (I seem to recall hearing about restrictions), though if not, why not?

Meanwhile, our troops are still  in danger:

The Army documents cite a number of recent safety threats. One report showed that during a four-day period in late February, soldiers at a Baghdad compound reported being shocked while taking showers in different buildings. The circumstances appear similar to those that led to Sergeant Maseth’s death.

Another entry from early March stated that an entire house used by American troops was electrically charged, making it unlivable.

Of course, I’m opposed to the war, and already cynical about the Bush administration and their cronies.  Still, this is shocking (oops, pun not intended, but maybe appropriate) even by their standards. 

Even if you support the war and Bush, write him and your members of congress and demand both that they remedy the situation so our troops are not in danger from our own contractors shoddy wiring, and that KBR and the other contractors be held responsible.

 Update:  I’ve found a video, of the Senate Hearings on July 11, 2008 after posting this earlier today.  Testifying at the hearing are Sgt. Maseth’s mother and the mother of another electroctuted soldier, and two electricians from KBR.

Evidently I can’t post Brightcove videos to my free Word Press account like I can YouTube videos, so follow the link below: