Tom Foley is charged with drawing up a privatisation plan for Iraq’s state-owned industries, which employ about 500,000 people. He will decide over the coming 12 months which of the roughly 200 companies are commercially viable.

Foley, a long-term Bush supporter who has contributed almost $50,000 of his own money to the Republican party, leaves for war-torn Iraq Monday and will report directly to the US governor of Iraq, Paul Bremer.

Foley told AFP: "The President knows that I have done some turnaround work and managed companies in high-stress situations."

"I think that his picking me for this job had nothing to do with the fact that I have been a fundraiser for him, but more because he has known me and he knows my background and skills in business," he added.

Cronyism

The 51-year-old is chairman of NTC Group, a venture capital company specialising in leveraged buyouts. Foley was also one of Presidential candidate Bob Dole’s 10 largest career patrons.

Still, Foley denied he had been given the job as a result of his political connections.

“Does this sound a reward? It sounds like the short straw,” he told AFP.

The Bush administration has come under fire for the way it has handed out contracts related to the economic reconstruction of occupied Iraq.

US companies, some of which have direct links to major players in the Bush administration, have been awarded the lion's share of business in post-war Iraq.

The Army Corps of Engineers came under scrutiny in March for secretly granting Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Haliburton, a contract to repair damage to Iraq’s oil infrastructure. The contract is worth an estimated $600 million and was awarded without a tender process.
 
Vice President Dick Cheney was chairman of Halliburton, the largest US oilfield services company, from 1995 to 2000.

Though Cheney divested himself of all his interests in the company after the 2000 election, the proximity of his old business and their winning of lucrative government contracts has left the government open to charges of cronyism.