Reconstruction: Piece Of The Pie, Please

As the reconstruction of Iraq gets underway, a cottage industry has sprung up to facilitate the grab for war spoils. On May 5, Equity International will sponsor "The Iraqi Reconstruction Conference," where private companies, relief groups and development organizations can network with top government officials and bureaucrats overseeing the rebuilding of Iraq--an estimated $25 billion to $100 billion undertaking. Early-bird registration for the conference: $245 to $495. Months before a single JDAM struck Baghdad, EI began planning its gathering. "It was our feeling there would be conflict," says William Loiry, EI's president. EI has held similar reconstruction conferences covering trouble spots from Kosovo and Bosnia to Afghanistan. "For us, it has become a niche," says Loiry.

EI now has competition. On May 1, London-based military-data giant Jane's Information Group and Washington think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) are cosponsoring "Companies on the Ground: The Challenges for Business in Rebuilding Iraq." Registration: $528 to $1,100. The partnership began planning after the war started. "Bush seemed prepared to use the private sector in ways we haven't seen before," says Bathsheba Crocker, a CSIS fellow. "There hadn't been a lot of focus on the role for the private sector, no one place for businesses to go for in-depth information."

For conferees, information and a possible inside track to a contract are up for grabs. The man who awards Iraqi contracts, U.S. Agency for International Development boss Andrew Natsios, will address the luncheon at EI's conference about the oil-well repairs, hospital equipment, road construction, water pipelines and the long list of other needs that U.S. companies can profitably fill. Jane's and CSIS landed his deputy. Between sessions on "funding for Iraqi reconstruction" and "rebuilding Iraq," EI conferees may get a chance to slip their company brochures to the top contracting official from Halliburton, which already has a lucrative oilfield contract from the Pentagon. How big is the new networking business itself? A lot depends on the size of any warmaking backlog at the Pentagon. "It's too soon to tell if there is an ongoing need," says CSIS's Crocker.