With the war in Iraq in its third week and coalition troops encircling Baghdad, it is still questionable when the war will end. But discussions on the prospects for post-war Iraq have already begun and are igniting fierce debates all over the globe.

The dispute started when one of the first contracts for rebuilding Iraq was awarded to Halliburton Co. – a company that Vice President Dick Cheney once headed – and the U.S. Agency for International Development announced that only American firms could bid for the current open contracts.

In response, the United Nations and other countries strongly expressed their disagreement with the arrangement.

“The argument they have given for that is that these contracts are for some additional work that would prevent a lot of the normal bureaucratic delays if they limit these big contracts to American firms,” political science Prof. Kenneth Lieberthal said. “There is some logic to that, but politically it looks terrible.”

Countries are divided over the question of who should take up the major role in the rebuilding process. At a NATO meeting in Brussels Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the coalition countries should be the dominant force in rebuilding Iraq after the war. But on the other side, France, Germany and Russia jointly said the U.N. should command the reconstruction after a meeting in Paris on Friday.

“It is really uncertain. No one knows the answer now,” political science Prof. Mark Tessler said. “I think most people think it should be the international community, like the United Nations, to take the lead.”

Lieberthal said there are four components in the rebuilding project, which include issues of security, government, economic reconstruction and humanitarian efforts. He added that early signs indicated that the United States would prefer to solely run the first three components while leaving the humanitarian work for the U.N.

Although the cost to revitalize Iraq is unclear at this moment, Reuters reported that Mark Malloch Brown, head of the U.N. Development Program, said he is expecting it to cost up to $100 billion.

If the United States insists on controlling most of the work in the process, Lieberthal said, then the administration will face serious obstacles in getting financial support from the U.N. and other countries.

Tessler said, “If the U.S. taxpayers have to pay for (the costs), it will make the economy even worse, but no doubt some of the American companies will become rich.”

In order for the United States to avoid taking up the enormous burden alone, Lieberthal said the Bush administration should devote itself to restoring a friendly relationship with other nations.

“It depends on the ultimate attitude the administration takes,” Lieberthal said. “If the administration brings others in, that would help to repair some of the diplomatic damage that was done over the last year.”

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