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

In numerous interviews with Iraqi and US officials, and though multiple examples of thwarted or defrauded projects, Bowen’s report laid bare a trail of waste, including:

‧ In Iraq’s eastern Diyala Province, a crossroads for Shiite militias, Sunni insurgents and Kurdish squatters, the US began building a 3,600-bed prison in 2004, but abandoned the project after three years to flee a surge in violence. The half-completed Khan Bani Saad Correctional Facility cost US taxpayers US$40 million but sits in rubble, and Iraqi Justice Ministry officials say they have no plans to ever finish or use it.

‧ Subcontractors for Anham LLC, based in Vienna, Virginia, overcharged the US government thousands of US dollars for supplies, including US$900 for a control switch valued at US$7.05 and US$80 for a piece of pipe that costs US$1.41. Anham was hired to maintain and operate warehouses and supply centers near Baghdad’s international airport and the Persian Gulf port at Umm Qasr.

‧ A US$108 million wastewater treatment center in the city of Fallujah, a former al-Qaeda stronghold in western Iraq, will have taken eight years longer to build than planned if it is completed next year and would only service 9,000 homes. Iraqi officials must provide an additional US$87 million to hook up most of the rest of the city, or 25,000 additional homes.

‧ After blowing up the al-Fatah bridge in north-central Iraq during the invasion and severing a crucial oil and gas pipeline, US officials decided to try to rebuild the pipeline under the Tigris River at a cost of US$75 million. A geological study predicted the project might fail, and it did: Eventually, the bridge and pipelines were repaired at an additional cost of US$29 million.

‧ A widespread ring of fraud led by a former US Army officer resulted in tens of millions of US dollars in kickbacks and the criminal convictions of 22 people connected to government contracts for bottled water and other supplies at the Iraqi reconstruction program’s headquarters at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

In too many cases, Bowen concluded, US officials did not consult with Iraqis closely or deeply enough to determine what reconstruction projects were really needed or, in some cases, wanted. As a result, Iraqis took limited interest in the work, often walking away from half-finished programs, refusing to pay their share, or failing to maintain completed projects once they were handed over.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani, a Shiite, described the projects as well intentioned, but poorly prepared and inadequately supervised.

The missed opportunities were not lost on at least 15 senior US Department of State and US Department of Defense officials interviewed in the report, including ambassadors and generals, who were directly involved in rebuilding Iraq.

One key lesson learned in Iraq, US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns told auditors, is that the US cannot expect to “do it all and do it our way. We must share the burden better multilaterally and engage the host country constantly on what is truly needed.”

US Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno, who was the top US military commander in Iraq from 2008 to 2010, said: “it would have been better to hold off spending large sums of money” until the country stabilized.

About a third of the US$60 billion was spent to train and equip Iraqi security forces, which had to be rebuilt after the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority disbanded former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s army in 2003. Today, Iraqi forces have varying successes in safekeeping the public and only limited ability to secure their land, air and sea borders.

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