Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ultra Services Procured Cars

News to me.

I stumbled upon an article from November of 2003 featuring Ryan Manelick. The article was for a Swiss news outlet by the name of 24 Heures and is in French - probably why I missed it all these years. I can't be sure but I believe it includes quotes from Omar Hadi - who I believe is referred to as "Haydar." One very interesting note: according to the article, Ryan's job included procuring cars [voitures] for the US Army.

This of course raises a very big question - did Ryan Manelick help Kirk von Ackermann buy his vehicle? I'm going to bet the answer is yes. 

I am quoting the article in full below. Another thing to note - Ryan appears to still be working for Ultra Services. There is no indication of any kind of animosity within the company.

C'est l'histoire de deux chefs d'entreprise
24 Heures, November 18, 2003
C'est l'histoire de deux chefs d'entreprise. 
Haydar a 32 ans. Il est Irakien. C'est un « intermédiaire »: il cherche ? et trouve ? des entreprises capables de répondre aux commandes des multinationales américaines en charge de la reconstruction du pays. 
Ryan Manelick, lui, a 30 ans. Il est Texan. Il n'a qu'un seul client, l'armée américaine qu'il approvisionne en unités sanitaires, électroménager, meubles, ordinateurs ou voitures d'Europe et des Etats-Unis. Et l'option « grand bazar sur la Mésopotamie » s'est avérée plus que payante. Créée en janvier dernier dans l'optique de la guerre, l'entreprise de Ryan Manelick avance un chiffre d'affaires de 12 millions de dollars sur quatre mois et emploie près de 70 locaux. 
« Jamais, nous aurions rêvé une telle réussite », confie-t-il. « Mais qui aurait pu imaginer que l'armée américaine n'aurait rien prévu pour l'après-guerre ? On leur livre même des ballots de protection. »
Faveurs et privilèges
Près d'une cinquantaine de petites entités de toutes nationalités se disputent ce marché. Les contrats sont théoriquement distribués sur la base d'appels d'offres par courriel mais Ryan admet des entorses à la règle. « Je suis Américain donc je rentre facilement dans les bases et au quartier général. Des contrats se passent parfois de gré à gré. » 
Sa nationalité se révèle en revanche handicapante lorsqu'il s'agit de faire transiter les marchandises dans le fameux triangle sunnite, bastion de la résistance. « Ce n'est pas de tout repos », consent-il. « On essuie des tirs. Mais pour l'instant, il n'y a pas de casse, heureusement. »
Haydar, quant à lui, rêverait de connaître ce genre de problème. Son chiffre d'affaire en sept mois de présence américaine ? Néant. Il n'a pourtant pas ménagé ses efforts pour obtenir des contrats, répondant aux multiples appels d'offres de Bechtel et KBR, les deux entreprises américaines qui ont décroché les plus gros contrats (respectivement 1 et 2,3 milliards de dollars). « Bechtel ne m'a jamais répondu tandis que KBR me fait des propositions insensées, explique-t-il. Ils demandent parfois 50 rouleaux de scotch, 30 pinceaux à peinture ... Mais pour qui me prennent-ils ? Ils n'ont qu'à aller au supermarché. »
L'Autorité provisoire de la coalition (CPA) n'échappe pas à sa critique. « Eux, vivent sur une autre planète. Ils passent par exemple un appel d'offres pour approvisionner en matériel informatique une équipe de 800 personnes. J'ai envoyé une proposition d'une société syrienne et j'ai reçu pour toute réponse un mail m'expliquant que, finalement d'offres n'était pas assez étayé. Est-ce ma faute s'ils ne réfléchissent pas avant de lancer une proposition ?»
Et de montrer des factures de téléphone satellite de 500 dollars, 150 dollars, dépenses occasionnées par ces démarchages. « Ils n'ont aucune manière. Avant la guerre, nous travaillions avec des sociétés russes dans le secteur pétrolier, je peux vous dire que c'était bien plus professionnel. »
De Haydar le Bagdadi à Ryan le Texan, ces deux destins aux fortunes diverses résument les débuts anarchiques de la reconstruction économique du nouvel Irak.

English Translation

My French is a little rusty. Rough translation follows - I'm sure I botched a phrase or two. Corrections very much welcome.
This is the story of two businessmen. 

Haydar is 32-years old. He is an Iraqi. He's a 'middle man.' He searches and finds companies capable of answering the demands of the American multinationals [corporations] in charge of reconstruction.

Ryan Manelick is 30-years old. He is a Texan. He has only one client, the American Army, who he supplies with portable toilets, appliances, furniture, computers or cars from Europe and America. And the option of the 'big bazaar in Mesopotamia' for more proof of who is paying. Created last January at the first hint of war, Ryan Manelick's company grew to $12 million of business in 4 months and employs 70 locals.

"Never, did we dream of this much success," he confided. "But then, who could have imagined the American Army didn't plan ahead for the post-war? Even their security is hired."

Favors and Privileges

Close to fifty small companies of all nationalities compete for business. The contracts are theoretically distributed on the basis of public requests for proposals but Ryan admits there are exceptions to the rules. "I am an American and can easily enter the bases and contracting offices. Contracts sometimes get handled in private."

His nationality, on the other hand, appears as a handicap when he moves merchandise in the famous Sunni Triangle, bastion of the resistance. "It's not peaceful", he admits. "You hear about shootings. But for now, that's not the case, happily."

Haydar has his own problems. His business after seven months of the American presence? Little to nothing. Despite his best efforts, he hasn't been able to obtain contracts, responding to multiple requests for proposals from Bechtel and KBR, the two American companies who offer the biggest contracts (respectively $1 and 2.3 million) "Bechtel never responded while KBR made ridiculous requests," he explained. "They asked for 50 bottles of Scotch, 30 paint brushes...but why ask me? Why not just go to the supermarket?"

The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) doesn't escape criticism. "Them. They live on another planet. For example, they made an appeal for software and equipment for 800 people. I delivered a proposal from a Syrian company and in response, I received an email explaining that there wasn't enough documentation to support the proposal. Is it my fault they didn't provide a description of their needs to begin with?" 

[Haydar?] shows invoices of satellite calls for 500 dollars, 150 dollars, expenditures due to the proposal."They have no manners. Before the war, we worked with the Russians in the petroleum industry. Let me tell you, they were much more professional." 

Haydar the Bagdadi and Ryan the Texan, two destinies of diverse fortunes that summarize the anarchistic debut of the economic rebuilding of a new Iraq.


Megan said...

I'll chime in with a vague memory (sorry, all my memories seem to be vague) that Kirk did talk about having help buying the car - certainly that someone was with him and advising him. I have another memory of him talking about John Dawkins generally driving quite flashy cars while Ryan suggested something much more subdued which Kirk felt was reasonable.

Susie Dow said...

My understanding is that it was the other way around. Dawkins drove a sedan - the more common vehicle in Iraq - while Manelick drove an SUV - considered a luxury available only to NGO workers or government insiders.

This is an excerpt from Daniel Halpern's article in Rolling Stone magazine:

Dawkins, for his part, had his own problems with Manelick. He thought Ryan played it far too fast and loose, driving an SUV with untinted windows, wearing Ray-Bans and a goatee, doing nothing to fit in. Dawkins himself was a stickler about personal security. Without the protection of U.S. forces, private contractors were on their own, and Dawkins was particularly adept at slipping into the shadows. In Iraq, he wore tinted contact lenses to make his light-blue eyes look brown, dyed his skin darker, grew an Iraqi-style mustache, wore kaffiyehs and robes. He drove an armored BMW with tinted windows that he claimed had once been a vehicle in Saddam's personal fleet, and he slept in the homes of Iraqi families. He trusted no one, except for his bodyguard, Omar Taleb, an official in the Iraqi police and a former helicopter pilot in the Iraqi Air Force.

Regarding a car that might have once belonged to Saddam Hussein: see AFTEREFFECTS: THE BLACK MARKET; Traders Sell Stolen Cars at Give-Away Prices, by Edmund L. Andrews, NY Times, May 10, 2003

For the Americans, it was another sobering lesson in the complexity of doing police work in a country with few enforceable laws, a rapid expansion in criminal gangs and a tradition of self-help that can mean helping yourself to whatever is available.

One thing on which everybody at the market agreed today was that the car at issue had been stolen. Almost every car there was stolen, and most of those on hand today were stolen from the collapsing government of Saddam Hussein.

Kirk's Nissan Patrol was a reasonable choice given its history with the UN. As you wrote here, - Kirk once pretended at a road block that he was a German eye doctor on a humanitarian mission. From what I've read, such a person would most likely drive a Nissan Patrol.