Buying enough manhole covers to make Kuwait's torn-up roads safe again is part of what occupies Ibrahim Shaheen's workdays. So does finding and arranging transport for 32,000 medical items needed to restock the country's ransacked hospitals, and reserving the 15 jets necessary to get its commercial airline back into full service.
While Washington and Baghdad face off over Kuwait's future, Shaheen and some of Kuwait's other top bureaucrats are sequestered in a K Street NW office preparing busily for the moment when the country is theirs again.
About 55 Kuwaiti planners, oil officials, health care experts and others have joined U.S. specialists from the Pentagon, Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to organize the replacement of what Iraqi forces have destroyed or stolen since they invaded Kuwait Aug. 2.
The list includes food, school desks and blackboards, office files and furniture, street lampposts, shades for bus stops and park benches, sewer pipes, telephone lines, office computers, public buses and police cars, oil refinery equipment and tankers and much more.
It is clear that no one intends to stay in the K Street office very long. Pasted on the glass walls where a nameplate would normally announce the function and importance of the occupant are handwritten titles on adhesive yellow note paper. "Oil," one proclaims. "Ports authority," reads another.
American business executives stream in and out. "Bechtel on the line," the secretary calls out. Borrowed message pads are imprinted with the World Bank's title. Daily Moslem prayers take place in the middle of the largest conference room.
In October, Kuwait's government-in-exile in Taif, Saudi Arabia, gave Shaheen's group the task of redrawing the blueprints that will allow crews to rewire, repave and reconstruct Kuwait's devastated urban landscape.
According to Fawzi Hamad Sultan, Kuwait's representative at the World Bank, Iraqi forces have done an estimated $25 billion in damage to the country.
Shaheen, who was director of Kuwait's Housing Authority before the invasion, says he believes that if Iraqi troops withdraw peacefully, two years will still be needed to restore Kuwait to its pre-invasion condition. If a war is fought in the country, it will take much longer.
Shaheen and Sultan said the cost of reconstruction will be paid from Kuwait's foreign investment portfolio, which they estimated at $80 billion to $100 billion. "We certainly will be able to cover it," Sultan said.
The team's first job is to plan emergency services needed by Kuwaitis still living in the country. Water decontamination, medical and food supplies and hospital equipment are on the short list. So is clearing mines from streets, buildings, ports and oil refining equipment believed to have been booby-trapped.
Some equipment needed during the emergency stage has been shipped to staging areas in eastern Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and elsewhere, to be available as soon as anti-Iraq forces retake the country, said Shaheen.
Standing in front of a hand drawing of Kuwait's oil refining and transport network, Kuwait Oil Co.'s group manager for production and development, Abdul Karim Rabah, said his first goal is to restore Kuwait's capacity to export oil and to meet the country's internal demands for electricity and water desalinization. Production facilities for both run on oil.
The education team has been consulting with experts, including some from Northern Virginia Community College, on how to cope with psychological effects of war and disaster on children. They are also revising history textbooks to include the belligerent relations with Iraq.
This week the Kuwaiti government-in-exile set up a new damage-claims court where citizens will be able to file claims on personal property lost during the occupation.
American and other foreign companies have been eager to offer themselves as contractors for the rebuilding, said Sultan. "No doubt we have had people knocking at our doors," he said, adding that a few had proposed "far-fetched" projects.
The country's post-occupation population is expected to be about 1.3 million, down from 2.2 million because of the exodus of foreign workers. Contractors will be expected to bring laborers with them.
One bright spot in the mess that Kuwait is expected to be when the conflict ends is that most property and banking records were contained on computer disks and have been smuggled out of the country. Also taken out were fingerprint records that will be used to reissue individual identification confiscated by Iraqi troops. Tax records are not a problem because Kuwaitis, with one of the world's highest per capita incomes, do not pay income taxes.