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Opinion: U.S. Has Right To Choose Iraq Contractors

The United States government's decision to hand Iraqi reconstruction contracts to war allies has irked war opponents in "Old Europe." But they probably would have done the same.

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Reconstruction in Iraq has begun in earnest, but many European firms are being left out.

Once again, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz seems to have fired too quickly by saying that those who didn’t participate in the American war on Iraq shouldn’t hope to get money and contracts from the Iraqi reconstruction fund.

The statement surely was more than just a tactical mistake now that the rift between Washington, Berlin, Paris and Moscow has been painfully mended. A sure sign of that are George W. Bush’s quick phone calls to Berlin, Paris and Moscow to avert even greater damage.

Old Europe’s hypocrisy

But actually Wolfowitz didn’t do anything the now indignant and angry Europeans, who even threatened to invoke international trade law, would not do if put in the same position.

When Europeans hand out development aid, they usually require the recipient to do his shopping with them. "Old Europe" also sulked less than a year ago when the "new Europeans" in Warsaw used EU funds to buy U.S. planes.

Why should Washington do things differently in the case of Iraq? Especially since the money comes from American taxpayers and George W. Bush has to make sure that it benefits the domestic economy during his pre-re-election campaign.

To quote international law in this case is more than risky as there is no sign that it would help the spurned Europeans:

First, there’s The Hague Conventions and the Geneva Convention, both of which deal with the treatment of occupied territory. They clearly state that occupying powers have a duty to improve living conditions in the areas they control. That includes reconstructing destroyed infrastructure, creating jobs and making life easier for the people affected.

Failing to step up to the plate

Europeans themselves had reminded the Americans of these duties before the latter began waging a war in Iraq. They probably did so to avoid having to shoulder some of the reconstruction costs themselves.

When donor nations gathered in Madrid, Germany, France and Russia shone by holding back. The U.S. on the other hand took on two-thirds of the agreed upon $30 billion (€24.6 billion.) So why are Europeans all of a sudden desperate to get a part of the action, which will overwhelmingly be paid for by the Americans?

The real clever ones even argue that banning European firms will harm Iraqis in the end. As if German, French or even Russian phones work better than American ones. In Madrid, a representative of Iraq’s Governing Council warned that his countrymen would definitely remember who helped and who didn’t.

Washington, in accordance with international law, is still making the decisions for the time being. But the Iraqis are unlikely to handle things differently in the future. They will probably still remember that under different circumstances, Germany, France and Russia benefited from doing business with Iraq -- Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Peter Philip is Deutsche Welle's chief correspondent.

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