The big winner in the Rebuild Iraq sweepstakes is
, a California-based engineering and construction company with long ties to the Republican Party.
The U.S. Agency for International Development awarded the contract, which could pay up to $680 million, on Thursday. Bechtel had been seen as the front-runner for the contract.
Other companies that were vying for the prized re-construction job were
Washington Group International
. Those two firms, however, recently were awarded smaller contracts by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to work on other projects in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
, the oil services company formerly led by Vice President Richard Cheney, also won a contract to repair Iraq's oil wells.
The initial award under the construction contract is only for $34.6 million. The rest of the funding under the contract is up to Congress.
The contract calls for the repair and rehabilitation or reconstruction of Iraq's power generation facilities, electrical grids, municipal water systems and sewage systems -- many of which have were damaged during U.S. bombing raids and have fallen into disrepair under 12 years of United Nation sanctions.
There is also a provision in the contract for the rehabilitation or repair of airport facilities, and the dredging, repair and upgrading of the Umm Qasr seaport, in close cooperation with other USAID contractors.
The Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group, recently reported that Bechtel gave about $1.3 million in campaign contributions, mostly to Republicans, between 1999 and 2002. Its board includes former Reagan administration Secretary of State George Shultz.