The Iraq Reconstruction Fiasco

Wext: Thursday, 12.August. @ 00:00:00 CEST


09. 08. 2004 - Things have gone so obviously wrong with America's approach to rebuilding Iraq that even the Bush administration is now willing to listen to some informed advice. Before the invasion, the White House and Pentagon contemptuously ignored post-invasion planning memos drafted by State Department experts knowledgeable about Iraq, the Arab world and the broader problems of nation-building. Now some of those same State Department experts are quietly being called back to try to repair the damage. Their re-emergence is welcome, but late in the game. Winning back the good will and trust of ordinary Iraqis will be, at best, an uphill fight.

Almost a year after Congress approved an American contribution of more than $18 billion to rebuild Iraq, very little of this money has been spent. Very little has actually been built in Iraq, and most of what has been done has been paid for out of Iraq's own revenues. This is more than an embarrassing case of dysfunctional aid management and shifty accounting. It helps explain why so many Iraqis have come to resent the American occupation even though it removed a hated dictator and ended 13 years of punishing economic sanctions. Even people who initially welcomed the invasion have had a hard time understanding or accepting why, 16 months after American troops took Baghdad, electricity and clean water are only intermittently available and nearly half of employable Iraqis are without work.

Of the $18.4 billion Congress approved last fall, only about $600 million has actually been paid out. Billions more have been designated for giant projects still in the planning stage. Part of the blame rests with the Pentagon's planning failures and the occupation authority's reluctance to consult qualified Iraqis. Instead, the administration brought in American defense contractors who had little clue about what was most urgently needed or how to handle the unfamiliar and highly insecure climate.

Occupation officials also felt free to tap into Iraqi revenues, which are subject to far less oversight and looser controls than Congressionally appropriated funds. Late last year, for example, the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root was awarded a no-bid contract out of Iraqi revenues. At the time, Congress might have balked at further dealings with a company facing questions about the inflated prices it charged for importing gasoline into Iraq and about a no-bid contract awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers just before the invasion. Last week, The Washington Post reported that almost $2 billion in Iraqi revenues had been awarded to American companies.

State Department experts now suggest a switch to smaller-scale projects that can produce visible results more quickly. They are also talking about deeper Iraqi involvement in the planning and carrying out of American-financed reconstruction projects. Greater Iraqi involvement would spread public awareness of these projects, provide new jobs for Iraqis and drastically reduce costs. Iraqi construction labor costs about one-tenth of what is typically paid to foreign contractors. Closer consultation with the Baghdad ministries and local councils would also add some plausibility to Washington's claims that Iraqis now exercise sovereignty in their own country. Despite all it has gone through, Iraq remains one of the Arab world's most advanced societies, with considerable professional expertise that should be put to better use.

All of this should have been done a year ago. It still needs to be done now. Iraq's reconstruction needs have only become more urgent and most of that huge appropriation is still unspent.

Note: Reports are published based on respect for freedom of opinion's expression, they do not necessarily reflect views of Kurdistan Democratic Party.

Source: NY Times

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