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Nick Turse: The Secret Building Boom of the Obama Years

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According to figures provided to TomDispatch by USACE, at least 10 contracts for construction at Al Udeid, worth nearly $87 million, are anticipated in 2013.  A review of official U.S. government documents reveals a host of upcoming projects there, including a fuels laboratory, a cryogenics facility, a new center for the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations, an air defense maintenance facility, more parking space for fuel trucks, new roadways, and a precision measurement equipment laboratory where technicians will calibrate the sophisticated gear used in vehicle and weapons maintenance.

Waterfront Development in Bahrain

Despite a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 2011, which continues to this day, the oil-rich kingdom of Bahrain (also "not free" according to Freedom House) is a top U.S. ally.  In fact, over the last year, the Corps of Engineers awarded contracts for construction in the country worth more than $232 million, the most for any nation in any year of the Obama presidency so far.  Since 2009, Bahrain has seen almost $326 million in USACE contract awards.

In 2010, the U.S. Navy broke ground on a mega-construction project to develop 70 acres of waterfront at the port at Mina Salman.  Scheduled for completion in 2015, the complex is slated to include new port facilities, barracks for troops, administrative buildings, a dining facility, and a recreation center, among other amenities.  Total price tag: $580 million.

In September, USACE awarded a $15 million contract for the expansion of a wastewater treatment plant and the construction of a climate-controlled warehouse, as well as an irrigation pump building, among other facilities at Mina Salman.  That same month, the Corps of Engineers also awarded a $42 million contract for a multistory "bachelor enlisted quarters" in the capital, Manama.  It will contain at least 241 two-bedroom apartments for Navy personnel, as well as administrative offices, laundry facilities, multipurpose rooms, and lounges. 

Taking Flight in Oman

In February and March of 2011, protests demanding political reform in Oman led to assaults on and the killing of protesters by the nation's security forces.  Despite marked restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of the press, this sultanate (also ranked "not free" by Freedom House) has been a favorite site of military expansion in the Obama years.  Between 2009 and 2012, the Corps of Engineers awarded $144 million in contracts for work there, more than half this year.

During the 1930s, the British Royal Air Force operated an airfield on Oman's Masirah Island. Today, the U.S. uses Masirah and USACE is carrying out construction there as well as at the country's Thumrait and Al Musannah Air Bases. 

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The Un-Withdrawal from Iraq

The Corps's contract data do not include figures for construction in Iraq prior to August 2011.  In the 15 months since, according to information provided by USACE, it has awarded $113 million in contracts for State Department nation-building-style projects like a wastewater treatment plant in the city of Fallujah and a courthouse in Rusafa. 

The Iraqi government is paying USACE to carry out these projects in order to increase its defense capabilities, according to the Middle East District's Joan Kibler.  These include a counterterrorism center, consisting of a headquarters facility, barracks, a warehouse, and a power plant in eastern Baghdad; a military training complex at Al Harthiya; a military security school in Taji; and administrative, security, and dining facilities at Hawk and Tikrit Air Bases. 

At the height of the American occupation of Iraq, the United States had 505 bases there, ranging from small outposts to mega-sized air bases.  Of them, some have been stripped clean by Iraqis, others became ghost towns, and one -- Camp Bucca -- a hotel.  What remains open today are State Department facilities, most notably the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.   Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported that the Department of State was planning to spend up to $115 million to upgrade the massive embassy compound, which it characterized as already the "biggest and most expensive in the world."   

State Department documents issued last month and examined by TomDispatch offer a snapshot of the civilian "bases" currently being maintained in Iraq.  The Baghdad embassy site in the "international zone" consists of two compounds, Camp Condor and the Chancery Compound, as well as the embassy heliport.  With two dining halls, two gyms, two firehouses, a large post office, a PX, and contractor housing, the site presently hosts about 3,600 personnel.

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Another 1,250 persons are currently deployed to the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center near Baghdad International Airport.  This location boasts a hospital, large dining hall, fire station, post office, contractor housing, and a medical waste incineration facility.  In Basrah, in the south of the country, the U.S. maintains two sites: Consulate General Basrah and Basrah Air Ops.  The dual facility boasts an airfield, a hospital, a fully-equipped recreation center with a gym and a pastry shop, a large laundry facility, a sizeable dining hall, a warehouse and other storage areas, and contractor housing.  There is even shuttle bus service.  About 1,000 people are located at the site.

Close to 1,000 more personnel are also stationed at the Erbil Diplomatic Support Center and Erbil Air Ops in the north of the country.  In addition to an airfield, the site also boasts contractor housing, a main dining hall, a sandwich shop and snack bar, laundry facilities, warehouses, fuel storage tanks, and a fire station. According to CENTCOM, personnel from the U.S. Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq -- military advisors working with that country's armed forces -- also operate out of Umm Qasar Naval Base in the south of the country, the Taji National Logistics Depot just north of Baghdad, and the nearby Besmaya Combined Training Center. 

Today, the Corps of Engineers has essentially ended work on America's civilian bases in Iraq.  "Anything that we are doing for Department of State at this stage would be very minor," Kibler told TomDispatch.  While the State Department is now in charge of carrying out the building boom at the embassy compound, the Corps of Engineers continues to support nation-building-type projects for the Iraqis that it carried out from 2004 to 2011, with another four contracts worth $2.3 million anticipated in 2013.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews (more...)

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