IN OTHER WORDS: Lethal hazard

For US troops in Iraq, service is dangerous enough even without having to worry about dying from shoddy wiring in their base facilities. But that has been the fate of at least 13 US service members, according to the Pentagon. Moreover, from August 2006 to January 2007, there were at least 283 electrical fires that damaged or destroyed US facilities.

As ghastly as this problem is, the Pentagon and Congress did not begin to show much interest

in it until the electrocution death of a Green Beret sergeant in January. To make sure the issue gets the scrutiny it deserves, Congress should bring officials at the Pentagon and at KBR, the main military contractor for troop housing in Iraq, before the public at a formal hearing.

Understaffing might be key to the problems since contractors like KBR were so overwhelmed with work that they subcontracted to Iraqi firms with unskilled workers. Representative Henry Waxman of California, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has demanded that Secretary of Defence Robert Gates provide by Friday all documents the Pentagon has compiled on the electricity problems. Waxman had asked for the documents in March and has still not received all of them. The time is past for passing the buck. US troops should not be exposed to the hazards of bad wiring.