Storm in a port: British chief opposes American muscle
By Rory McCarthy in Qatar and Vikram Dodd in London
March 29 2003
Serious divisions have emerged between Britain and United States over plans for
the running of Iraq's largest port at Umm Qasr.
Air Marshal Brian Burridge, Britain's chief military officer in the Gulf, said
it should be run by Iraqis as a model for the future reconstruction of the
But earlier this week the Bush Administration handed the $US4.8million
($8million) contract to the private Stevedoring Services of America (SSA).
The Seattle-based firm has clashed with workers across three continents and
faced accusations of being union busters. SSA will manage the port and handle
cargo and shipping.
The US and British military say Umm Qasr is vital for the delivery and
unloading of humanitarian supplies, though some experts think it could also be
useful if the war drags on and fresh supplies are needed for the troops.
Air Marshal Burridge said on Thursday he wanted it handed to the Iraqis when
the area was secured.
British soldiers have found the port's former manager, an Iraqi army colonel
who was arrested in Umm Qasr during the first days of the operation. Officers
are trying to find other former staff.
The British military say they do not want to appear as imperialist invaders.
"This is not the pax Britannica. We don't want to conquer a second
The Umm Qasr contract was the second awarded by the US Agency for International
Development to a US company for reconstruction work in Iraq. The first went to
the engineering firm Kellogg Brown & Root - part of Halliburton, the company
once headed by US Vice-President Dick Cheney. It won a contract to put out oil
well fires and repair oil facilities.
Until SSA takes over the port, it will be run by 17 Port and Maritime Regiment
of the Royal Logistics Corps. It will be the first time the British military
has run a port in wartime since World War II.
SSA has business interests at 150 sites around the world, including Vietnam,
India, Chile and Panama. Its CEO, Jon Hemingway, has given political donations
to Republican candidates.
Concern has grown that lucrative contracts for rebuilding Iraq, after the
coalition bombing and years of neglect under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, are
going to US firms while British companies miss out.