U.S. Firms' Iraq Contracts Come Under Fire

"They're all pretty much pocket change compared to the one Bechtel has," says Schooner.

Other critics worry that the lack of international competition in the primary contracts could bring trade repercussions in the future. Though foreign firms can be invited as subcontractors for work in Iraq, the contracts thus far have been limited to U.S. firms. USAID spokesman Harry Edwards says the primary contractors are limited to U.S. companies by law, but subcontracting firms can be from any nation except Libya, Iran, North Korea and Cuba.

But even with more bidding going out in the future, the U.S. companies that are already slated to start work in Iraq will be well-poised to reap the rewards.

"Often with these contracts there's been a first-mover advantage," says Peter Singer, Olin Fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, an independent research firm in Washington and author of Corporate Warriors, a book about the military contracting industry coming out in May.

"This does put you in a very good position to gain once you have it — you know the contract in and out, you know what the client wants, you have your people on the ground," he says. "It becomes very hard for a competitor to knock you off."

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