Sat, Mar 09, 2013 - Page 9 News List

US oversights in Iraq influence Afghanistan

Ten years and US$60 billion in US taxpayer funds later, Iraq is still so unstable and broken that even its leaders question whether US efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation were worth the cost

By Lara Jakes  /  AP, Washington

Illustration: Constance Chou

In his final report to the US Congress, US Special Inspector-General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen’s conclusion was all too clear: Since the invasion a decade ago this month, the US has spent too much money in Iraq for too few results.

The reconstruction effort “grew to a size much larger than was ever anticipated,” Bowen told reporters in a preview of his last audit of US funds spent in Iraq, which was released on Wednesday.

“Not enough was accomplished for the size of the funds expended,” he said.

In interviews with Bowen, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the US funding “could have brought great change in Iraq,” but fell short too often. “There was misspending of money,” said al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim whose sect makes up about 60 percent of Iraq’s population.

Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, the country’s top Sunni Muslim official, told auditors that the rebuilding efforts “had unfavorable outcomes in general.”

“You think if you throw money at a problem, you can fix it,” Kurdish government official Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, told auditors. “It was just not strategic thinking.”

The abysmal Iraq results forecast what could happen in Afghanistan, where US taxpayers have so far spent US$90 billion in reconstruction projects during a 12-year military campaign that, for the most part, ends next year.

Shortly after the March 2003 invasion, the US Congress set up a US$2.4 billion fund to help ease the sting of war for Iraqis. It aimed to rebuild Iraq’s water and electricity systems; provide food, healthcare and governance for its people; and take care of those who were forced from their homes in the fighting.

Fewer than six months later, then-US president George W. Bush asked for US$20 billion more to further stabilize Iraq and help turn it into an ally that could gain economic independence and reap global investments.

To date, the US has spent more than US$60 billion in reconstruction grants to help Iraq get back on its feet after the country has been broken by more than two decades of war, sanctions and dictatorship. That works out to about US$15 million a day.

However, Iraq’s government is rife with corruption and infighting. Baghdad’s streets are still cowed by near-daily deadly bombings. A quarter of the country’s 31 million population lives in poverty, and few have reliable electricity and clean water.

Overall, including all military and diplomatic costs, and other aid, the US has spent at least US$767 billion since the US-led invasion, according to the US Congressional Budget Office. National Priorities Project, a US research group that analyzes federal data, estimated the cost to be US$811 billion, noting that some funds are still being spent on ongoing projects.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a member of the US Senate committee that oversees US funding, said the Bush administration should have agreed to give the reconstruction money to Iraq as a loan in 2003 instead as an outright gift.

“It’s been an extraordinarily disappointing effort and, largely, a failed program,” Collins said in an interview on Tuesday. “I believe, had the money been structured as a loan in the first place, that we would have seen a far more responsible approach to how the money was used and lower levels of corruption in far fewer ways.”

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