SUPPORT FOR the troops? More like contempt.

Contempt is the only word to describe the tolerance for incompetence and dishonesty that allowed the deaths of at least 16 U.S. soldiers in Iraq from electrocution - as well as 283 electrical fires, some fatal, attributed to shoddy electrical work.

Injuries from electricity are the No. 1 noncombat hazard in Iraq - and, unlike bombs and insurgent ambuses, most are preventable. Except they weren't prevented and, even when reported, they weren't repaired.

As the story continues to emerge - in part from steady prodding by Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., D-Pa. - war profiteer Kellogg Brown and Root, which was responsible for constructing and renovating military facilities in Iraq, is more interested in denying responsibility than in fixing the problem. And the Pentagon isn't all that eager to make them.

Harsh? Listen to the Senate testimony this month of former KBR electrician Debbie Crawford. With other former KBR employees, Crawford described how electrical work was routinely assigned to unqualified subcontractors: "Time and time again we heard, 'This is not the States. OSHA doesn't apply here. You're in a war zone, what do you expect? And if you don't like it, you can go home.' "

Surely, the lie told to the mother of a Green Beret who was electrocuted in January is of the brand dispensed by people who don't expect to be challenged no matter what ridiculous nonsense they spout.

Cheryl Harris, of western Pennsylvania, was told that her son, Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, had been electrocuted after he took an electrical appliance with him into the shower.

In a short time, Maseth's fellow soldiers told Harris otherwise. Soldiers had complained for months of electrical shocks, and work orders for repairs were filed, but not filled. In fact, 11 months before he died, a report detailed electrical problems in Maseth's building - and was ignored.

In a meeting last Friday, KBR's president and CEO, William Utt, reiterated that KBR isn't responsible for the safety of the electrical wiring in Iraq, but only for fixing problems that the military authorizes.

You don't have to be an experienced electrician to recognize that routine electrical shocks aren't potential hazards but imminent hazards.

Increased attention apparently prompted the Pentagon to act: It has ordered a full electrical inspection of its 4,900 military facilities. And it gave the contract for the workto . . . KBR.

Today, Casey will tell a House committee that questions still outnumber answers.

In the meantime, KBR and the military appear to be engaged in a contest of finger-pointing - when they take the time off from stonewalling.

Want to support the troops? Forget the yellow-ribbon decal. Pressure Congress to force a believable inspection and mandate repairs. If we can't bring the troops home for another couple of years, at least we can make it safe for them to take a shower. *