Report finds lots of spending, little results in rebuilding Iraq
By Lara Jakes
WASHINGTON — Ten years and $60 billion in American taxpayer funds later, Iraq is still so unstable and broken that even its leaders question whether U.S. efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation were worth the cost.
In his final report to Congress, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen’s conclusion was all too clear: Since the invasion a decade ago this month, the U.S. 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 the Associated Press in a preview of his last audit of U.S. funds spent in Iraq, to be released Wednesday, March 6.
“Not enough was accomplished for the size of the funds expended.”
In interviews with Bowen, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the U.S. 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 U.S. taxpayers have so far spent $90 billion in reconstruction projects during a 12-year military campaign that, for the most part, ends in 2014.
Shortly after the March 2003 invasion, Congress set up a $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, health care and governance for its people; and take care of those who were forced from their homes in the fighting.
Fewer than six months later, President George W. Bush asked for $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 U.S. has spent more than $60 billion in reconstruction grants to help Iraq get back on its feet after the country that has been broken by more than two decades of war, sanctions and dictatorship.
That works out to about $15 million a day.
And yet 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 U.S. has spent at least $767 billion since the American- led invasion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. National Priorities Project, a U. S. research group that analyzes federal data, estimated the cost at $811 billion, noting that some funds are still being spent on ongoing projects.
Sen. Susan Collins, a member of the Senate committee that oversees U.S. 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, R-Maine, said in an interview 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.”
In too many cases, Bowen concluded, U.S. 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.
The Afghanistan effort risks falling into the same problems that mired Iraq if oversight isn’t coordinated better. In Iraq, officials were too eager to build in the middle of a civil war, and too often raced ahead without solid plans or back-up plans.
Most of the work was done in piecemeal fashion. The State Department, for example, was supposed to oversee reconstruction strategy starting in 2004, but controlled only about 10 percent of the money at stake. The vast majority of the projects were paid for by the Defense Department.