Daily life in Iraq

From Slate

One contractor bid $70,000 to fill a few potholes. Maj. Benjamin Busch of College Park, Md., working with the Civil Affairs Group in Ramadi, estimated that the work should cost $5,000. The contractor protested that he had to buy his own cement trucks because no one was willing to rent to him if it meant entering Ramadi. He then had to hire guards who insisted on driving their own vehicles. He paid local officials for “licenses,” he paid the sheik in charge of the local tribe where he was to work. He then had to persuade the insurgents on each street where he was working to accept a payment in exchange for leaving him alone. And his work crew and guards insisted on driving back and forth from Baghdad each day, resulting in about three hours of actual work per day. Busch told him to forget it, but he agreed that such a maze of payoffs and arrangements was typical. It was almost impossible for an outside contractor to work in the city, and local contractors spent more time negotiating with the complex power structure than doing actual work. Hence, $70,000 for a $5,000 job.

Determined to complete at least one job on the streets, Busch brought in two tanks to guard a work detail. Insurgents (without guns) walked around the tanks, gathered the workers together, and told them they had one hour to get out of town. The workers left.