The White House said Wednesday that it made sense to allow countries that are supporting the effort to build a free Iraq to compete for the contracts, and the decision applied only to the $18.6 billion that Congress approved.
The additional $13 billion pledged at the recent donors conference in Madrid was open to broader participation, said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. And subcontracts, totaling an unspecified amount, are open as well.
“I think it is appropriate and reasonable to expect that prime contracts for reconstruction funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars should go to the Iraqi people (and) those countries who are working with the United States on the difficult task of helping build a free, democratic and prosperous Iraq,” McClellan said.
The 63 eligible countries listed in a memo posted on the Pentagon’s Web site Tuesday do not include France, Germany, Russia and China — countries that opposed the war.
After word of the memo — dated Dec. 5 and signed by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz — came out, nations began registering their disapproval.
CNN quoted a spokesman for the German government as saying that if Germany is barred, “it would not be acceptable. It would not be in agreement with the spirit that both sides have signaled, to look into the future and not into the past.”
The French government said it was studying the legality of the decision.
“We’re studying the compatibility of these decisions with the international laws of competition, together with our concerned partners, especially the European Union and the European Commission,” said a French spokesman.
The European Commission said it also is investigating whether the decision violates world trade rules, according to Reuters.
“We are now going to start looking into the 26 contracts in order to make sure that limitations to competition for these public procurement contracts to certain countries is compatible with World Trade Organization rules,” said European Commission spokeswoman Arancha Gonzalez.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said all countries willing to help Iraq should be able to do so.
“As regards the reconstruction of Iraq, I think that it’s a general desire and all who are prepared to participate in this should be given every possibility to do that,” he said.
Canada, which was also absent from the list of eligible countries, criticized the move.
Prime Minister-elect Paul Martin said, “I find it really very difficult to fathom. First of all, Canada has put in close to $300 million in terms of the reconstruction of Iraq. I understand the importance of these kinds of contracts, but this shouldn’t be just about who gets contracts, who gets business. It ought to be what is the best thing for the people of Iraq, and how are we going to participate in that.”
The $18.6 billion in contracts address electricity, water, transportation, housing, health systems and other projects.
An unidentified Pentagon official said banned nations can still send troops or money and become eligible: “We’d welcome their support,” USA Today quoted the official as saying.
Democrats were also quick to criticize the decision, saying it conflicts with the administration’s efforts to draw international support to coalition efforts.
“At the very time the secretary of State (Colin Powell) and secretary of Defense (Donald Rumsfeld) were at NATO requesting greater allied participation in Iraq and Afghanistan, we stick a finger in the eye of those whose help we are seeking,” said Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Meanwhile in Iraq, two U.S. soldiers were killed and four wounded in separate attacks in the northern city of Mosul on Wednesday.
Soldiers trying to secure a gas station came under fire from gunmen in two passing vehicles, said Maj. Trey Cate of the 101st Airborne Division. One American soldier was killed and another wounded. The drive-by shootings also targeted the nearby Kurdish Democratic Party headquarters, where a guard was killed and two others wounded.
In a second attack in Mosul, one soldier died and three more were injured from small-arms fire and a roadside explosive when their convoy passed.
As of Wednesday morning, 449 U.S. soldiers had been killed since the start of the Iraq war, including 309 from hostile fire, according to the Defense Department.