Reconstruction plans for Iraq depend on IT

The US State Department and the Pentagon are already working with the private sector to plan for the rebuilding of Iraq's...

The US State Department and the Pentagon are already working with the private sector to plan for the rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure, including IT and telecommunications systems.

Under a State Department programme known as the Future of Iraq Project, Iraqi exiles with expertise in IT and other disciplines have delivered to the Bush administration studies and recommendations on reconstructing post-war Iraq.

David Staples, a spokesman for the Future of Iraq Project, which was initiated in October, said 17 working groups have been established, including an economics and infrastructure group focused on IT infrastructure and telecommunications requirements.

Rubar Sandi, a member of the infrastructure working group, fought in the Kurdish revolution in 1974 and now owns an investment bank in Washington. Based on information provided by people inside Iraq, Sandi estimated that the cost of modernising Iraq's data and voice networks would be between $1bn (£0.6bn) and $1.5bn and that it would take six to eight years to complete.

"It could definitely go much faster," said Sandi. "But nobody really knows exactly how to assess the infrastructure without knowing what the damage will be. So we analysed everything as is."

Ahmed Al-Hayderi, a member of the infrastructure working group who defected from Iraq in 1980, works for a global telecommunications firm in the US. According to Al-Hayderi, the community of four million Iraqi exiles includes many senior corporate executives from technology companies that are eager to invest in Iraq and assist in the rebuilding.

"There is significant infrastructure available in the military sector," said Al-Hayderi, adding that the working group is concentrating on how to leverage that infrastructure to "leapfrog to a cost-effective deployment of a fully ubiquitous telecommunications infrastructure throughout Iraq".

Similarly, the US Department of Defense is engaged in planning for the IT and telecommunications requirements of occupation forces that can serve as a framework for a more permanent infrastructure for post-war Iraq.

A spokesman for the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), the Pentagon's central network systems provider, said the agency has already contracted for significant commercial information systems support.

Although the spokesman declined to name companies that will be involved in the work, he said some of the contracts are focused on providing OC3 terrestrial connections throughout the region. DISA plans to rely on commercial contractors "to the maximum extent possible" and will bring them in once planning for a post-war communications infrastructure is complete, the spokesman said.

The Pentagon has a history of using commercial firms to provide critical telecommunications and IT support during and after military operations.

For example, Sprint was the principal US contractor for building the physical infrastructure for voice and data networks in Bosnia in the late 1990s after the war there. Sprint is now in informal talks with military and civilian agencies about building a voice and data infrastructure in Iraq after hostilities subside, said a Sprint spokesman.

WorldCom said it has an extensive list of federal contracts and is "always working with [the government] closely . . . to discuss current and future needs", which would include those associated with US involvement in Iraq.

Also certain to be affected by the Iraq war is Paris-based Alcatel, a major networking vendor with operations in 130 countries. It was designated by the United Nations to provide basic telecommunications services in Iraq at the end of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, said Mark Burnworth, an Alcatel spokesman. Alcatel has since received contracts worth £54m for reconstruction of telecommunications infrastructure in Iraq, all approved by the UN's Oil for Food Committee, Burnworth said.

Nortel Networks, meanwhile, hasn't made any business plans for post-war Iraq.

"We're much more concerned with the outcome of the war than whether there's a profit for us at this stage," said Malcolm Collins, president of Nortel's enterprise networks division.

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