Japan may hire controversial firm to dismantle camp in Iraq

The Defense Agency is considering hiring a U.S. firm to dismantle the Ground Self-Defense Force’s camp in Samawah, Iraq, after the troops pull out by late May, informed sources said Saturday.

It would be the first time the Self-Defense Forces have contracted work to a private military contractor in connection with an overseas deployment.

The agency is thinking about asking KBR — a subsidiary of U.S. giant Halliburton Co. for which U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney once served as chief executive officer — to disassemble the GSDF camp, the sources said.

Such a move would be aimed at speeding up the troops’ withdrawal and securing the safety of the approximately 600 personnel as they make their way out of Iraq, where they have been conducting humanitarian and reconstruction aid operations.

But it could spark a battle due to concerns over allegations that Cheney played a part in getting lucrative U.S. reconstruction projects in Iraq granted to KBR.

The Defense Agency may decide not to have KBR do the job depending on what comes out of negotiations with the local people who own the land used for the GSDF camp, according to the sources.

The government wants to return the approximately 350 hectares of land without taking down the camp, but the local people could demand that it be returned in its original state, the sources said.

Japan has been paying about 30 million yen a year in rent.

In the event full restoration is sought, the agency is considering contracting out the work to dismantle the camp to KBR, the sources said.

The work is expected to begin after all of the GSDF personnel leave, and Japan may ask that local residents be hired for the project.

In conjunction with the GSDF’s withdrawal from Samawah, the agency is planning to dispatch about 100 personnel to Kuwait and about 10 to Iraq for supply and transportation duties, and the withdrawal to Kuwait is to take about two months, the sources said.

If GSDF personnel were to take down the camp on their own, it would take another several months and possibly increase their danger because security in Iraq is unstable, they said.

KBR has conducted projects in conflict-torn places such as Somalia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, and it has been contracted to do various types of work to support the U.S. military in Iraq, including transporting supplies and fuel, providing meals, processing garbage and delivering mail.

The company is suspected of padding its bill to the U.S. military in March 2005 by charging more than $100 million in a contract to supply fuel to Iraqis.