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Halliburton Hustling Iraqi "Sailboat Fuel"

"Empty Runs: Truckers Call Trips in Iraq Wasteful"

Seth Borenstein, Detroit Free Press

WASHINGTON — A Halliburton Inc. subsidiary sent empty flatbed trucks crisscrossing Iraq more than 100 times this year, putting their drivers and military escorts at risk and handing taxpayers the bill with a little added profit.

The drivers were in peril of insurgent attack while taking empty rigs on the 300-mile resupply run from Camp Cedar in southern Iraq to Camp Anaconda near Baghdad, said 12 current and former drivers for the company.

The subsidiary, Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), billed the government for hauling what the drivers derisively called "sailboat fuel."KBR, the U.S. Army and the truckers gave different reasons for why empty trucks were driven through areas that the drivers nicknamed Rockville and Slaughterhouse for the danger they presented.

KBR described the practice of including empty trucks in convoys as normal, given the large number of trucks it has delivering goods throughout Iraq.

The Army's contract doesn't dictate how many trucks must be in a convoy or whether they must be full, said Linda Theis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Field Support Command in Rock Island, Ill.

"There was one time we ran 28 trucks; one trailer had one pallet, and the rest of them were empty," said David Wilson, who was the convoy commander on more than 100 runs.

Four other drivers who were with Wilson confirmed his account.

"It was supposed to be critical supplies that the troops had to have to operate," said Wilson, who has been fired by KBR. "It was one thing to risk your life to haul things the military needed. It's another to haul empty trailers."

KBR denied there was any problem with the truck runs. "It is difficult and dangerous work and requires a lot from our employees," said Cathy Gist, a KBR spokeswoman.

KBR truckers say they can earn about $80,000 a year, which is tax free if they remain in Iraq for a year.

Trucking experts estimate that each round trip costs taxpayers thousands of dollars.

The Free Press Washington Bureau interviewed 12 current or former KBR drivers. Seven asked to not be identified by name. Six of the truckers said they were fired by KBR for allegedly running Iraqi drivers off the road when they attempted to break into the convoy. The dismissed drivers disputed that accusation.

The 12 drivers, interviewed separately over the course of more than a month, told similar stories about their trips through hostile territory.

[Contact SETH BORENSTEIN at sborenstein@krwashington.com Copyright © 2004 Detroit Free Press.]