Friday, October 19, 2007

Baghdad: Crime Never Stops

Top Story Criminal probe into U.S. Embassy in Iraq construction
By Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay | McClatchy Newspapers
U.S. Embassy Complex under construction in Baghdad's Green Zone | View larger image
WASHINGTON — A mortar shell smashed into the hulking new U.S. Embassy that's under construction in Baghdad last May, damaging a wall and causing minor injuries to people inside the building. It also exposed enormous problems in the management of what's become a $592 million government construction project.

The State Department contractor in charge of the project, James L. Golden, attempted to alter the scene of the blast, according to government officials familiar with the incident. The State Department inspector general prevented Department officials from investigating the incident, according to interviews and documents.

A congressional committee is examining whether the walls of the still-unfinished embassy complex, which are supposed to be blast-resistant, performed as they should have during the mortar attack.

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker banished Golden from Iraq, but he continues to oversee the construction of the embassy in Baghdad; to be the liaison with the contractor, Kuwait-based First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Co.; and to supervise other projects for the State Department's Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) bureau.

The embassy — actually a 104-acre, Vatican-size compound of 21 buildings meant to house and sleep about 1,000 U.S. officials was originally meant to open in June, then in September. Now, due to problems with the sprinkler system, the latest in a series of deficiencies blamed on First Kuwaiti, it remains unclear whether it will be ready for occupancy this year. Golden didn't return phone calls seeking comment.

McClatchy Newspapers has also learned that:

— Aspects of the embassy's construction are the subject of at least one U.S. government criminal investigation, according to officials in Congress and the administration. They spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter and declined to divulge more details for publication.

— In order to rush the project, the long-time head of OBO, retired Army Maj. Gen. Charles Williams, signed a waiver in July 2005 allowing a sole-source contract to be awarded to First Kuwaiti.

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