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Faulty contractor work blamed for Iraq electrocutions

Latest update : 2008-07-19

A Senate investigation revealed that faulty electrical work by private contractors on US bases in Iraq posed a bigger threat than the Pentagon initially disclosed. Electrocutions have led to at least one death and dozens of injuries among US forces.

U.S. soldiers face death and danger from shoddy electrical work at their bases in Iraq, raising further questions about a heavy reliance on private contractors, the New York Times reported on Friday.


The Pentagon knew about the problems but did little to address them until Ryan Maseth, a member of the elite Green Berets, was electrocuted in January while taking a shower, the newspaper said.


The Army says 13 soldiers have been electrocuted in Iraq since the invasion in March 2003 but the Times reported that internal documents show many injuries from shocks and losses from electrical fires.


As recently as June, an electrical fire destroyed 10 buildings at a base in Falluja, forcing Marines to ask for donations to replace their belongings, the paper said.


Congress and the Pentagon have started to investigate, it said, with Army officials this month ordering inspections of all buildings in Iraq maintained by KBR, a Houston company that provides basic services to U.S. troops in Iraq.


"We consider this to be a very serious issue," a Pentagon spokesman told the Times in an e-mail.


A spokeswoman for KBR, which has faced accusations of overbilling, providing unsafe water to soldiers and other lapses, told the Times the company had found no link between its work and the electrocutions.


The paper said internal Army records for the six-month period to January 2007 showed two U.S. soldiers were killed in an electrical fire near Tikrit, many more injured by shocks and military facilities damaged by 283 electrical fires.


An Army report noted "a safety threat theaterwide created by the poor-quality electrical fixtures procured and installed, sometimes incorrectly" and that a study by KBR had found a "systemic problem" with electrical work, the Times said.


KBR says it handles maintenance for 4,000 structures in the war zone, including Iraqi buildings repaired and upgraded, plus another 35,000 shipping containers used for housing.


Officials noted the U.S. government contracted out so much work in Iraq that companies like KBR were overwhelmed and some tasks were given to subcontractors who hired unskilled Iraqis paid a few dollars a day, the Times said.


Government officials in charge of contract oversight were also unable to keep up, allowing unsafe electrical work to go unchallenged, it said.

Date created : 2008-07-19