Two former employees of First Kuwaiti Trading and Contracting, the company that's building the new $592 million U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, testified to a House of Representatives panel Thursday that they'd observed abuses of construction workers.
John Owens, who worked on the site as a security liaison from November 2005 to June 2006, said he'd seen foreign workers packed in trailers and working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with time off Fridays for Muslim prayers. Several told him they earned about $300 a month, after fees were taken out, and that they were docked three days' pay for such offenses as clocking in five minutes late.
Rory Mayberry, who said he'd been a medic on the site for five days, said First Kuwaiti had asked him to escort 51 Filipino men from Kuwait to Baghdad but not to tell them where they were going. Their tickets showed that they were flying to Dubai, Mayberry said. They screamed protests when they discovered on the flight that they were headed to Baghdad, he said.
Mayberry also said he'd seen workers high on scaffolding without safety harnesses.
In a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., said Americans were responsible because U.S. taxpayers' money paid the workers.
The above is from Renee Schoof's "Abuse of workers building U.S. embassy in Iraq is alleged" (McClatchy Newspapers) and, on the same topic, Lloyd notes William Branigin's "Foreign Workers Abused at Embassy, Panel Told" (Washington Post):
The accounts were delivered at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on allegations of waste, fraud and abuse in the construction of a huge new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad at a cost of nearly $600 million. The embassy, slated to be the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in the world, is being built by a Kuwaiti firm, First Kuwaiti General Trading & Contracting Co., which was awarded the contract after no U.S. company would meet the terms, the committee was told.
First Kuwaiti's labor practices are under investigation by the Justice Department, which is looking into allegations that foreign employees were brought into Iraq under false pretenses and were unable to leave because the company had confiscated their passports.
Jessica Bernstein-Wax offers the brief "Facts, comments about U.S. Embassy in Baghdad" (McClatchy Newspapers):
The walled U.S. Embassy on 104 acres along the Tigris River in Baghdad will have 619 one-bedroom apartments, a recreation center with a pool and gym, and two office buildings. A third building is designed for future use as a school. The compound will have its own power generator -- in a city where most people are without electricity much of the time -- and water-treatment plant.
And if you're looking for a historical comparison an oversize monument being built with slave labor, consider the pyramids in Egypt.
In this morning's New York Times, Stephen Farrell's "Bomb Kills 25 in Baghdad After U.S. Cites Security Success" begins:
A car bomb killed 25 people in a Shiite area of the city during the evening rush hour on Thursday, wounding dozens of shoppers, destroying stores and leaving a pall of smoke hanging over the center of the city.
The attack occurred hours after Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the second-ranking American commander in Iraq, claimed "significant success" for recent security operations in Baghdad and Diyala Province.
Martha notes the following from Megan Greenwall's "Blast Kills at Least 25 in Long-Secure Baghdad Neighborhood" (Washington Post):
The explosion was the latest in a string of car bombs in Karrada, a largely Shiite district long considered one of Baghdad's safest neighborhoods. More than 50 people have been killed in seven car bomb attacks in the neighborhood this month. There was no significant violence in Karrada in June, police records show.
Since the war began, Karrada had been one of the few places in Baghdad to have escaped intense sectarian violence. Sunnis and Shiites driven out of other areas of the capital flocked to the neighborhood, willing to pay higher rents for the prospect of safety.
A sprawling set of streets with dozens of produce stalls, clothing stores and restaurants, Karrada is especially known for its jewelry stores, selling products from cheap costume bracelets to gold rings. Thursday afternoons are one of the busiest times in Karrada, as people finish their shopping before the midday curfew Friday, the Muslim holy day.
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