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America wasted billions ‘rebuilding’ Iraq

By KIM GAMEL
August 30, 2010

(AFP)

A $40 million prison sits in the desert north of Baghdad, empty. A $165 million children’s hospital goes unused in the south. A $100 million waste water treatment system in Fallujah has cost three times more than projected, yet sewage still runs through the streets.

As the U.S. draws down in Iraq, it is leaving behind hundreds of abandoned or incomplete projects. More than $5 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds has been wasted on these projects — more than 10 percent of the $53.7 billion the US has spent on reconstruction in Iraq, according to audits from a U.S. watchdog agency.

That amount is likely an underestimate, based on an analysis of more than 300 reports by auditors with the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. And it does not take into account security costs, which have run almost 17 percent for some projects.

There are success stories. Hundreds of police stations, border forts and government buildings have been built, Iraqi security forces have improved after years of training, and a deepwater port at the southern oil hub of Umm Qasr has been restored.

But even completed projects for the most part fell far short of original goals, according to an Associated Press review of hundreds of audits and investigations and visits to several sites. And the verdict is still out on whether the program reached its goal of generating Iraqi good will toward the United States instead of the insurgents.

Col. Jon Christensen, who took over as head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq this summer, said it has completed more than 4,800 projects and is rushing to finish 233 more. Some 595 projects have been terminated, mostly for security reasons.

Christensen acknowledged that mistakes have been made. But he said steps have been taken to fix them, and the success of the program will depend ultimately on the Iraqis — who have complained that they were not consulted on projects to start with.

“There’s only so much we could do,” Christensen said. “A lot of it comes down to them taking ownership of it.”

The reconstruction program in Iraq has been troubled since its birth shortly after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The U.S. was forced to scale back many projects even as they spiked in cost, sometimes to more than double or triple initial projections.

As part of the so-called surge strategy, the military in 2007 shifted its focus to protecting Iraqis and winning their trust. American soldiers found themselves hiring contractors to paint schools, refurbish pools and oversee neighborhood water distribution centers. The $3.6 billion Commander’s Emergency Response Program provided military units with ready cash for projects, and paid for Sunni fighters who agreed to turn against al-Qaida in Iraq for a monthly salary.

But sometimes civilian and military reconstruction efforts were poorly coordinated and overlapped.

Iraqis can see one of the most egregious examples of waste as they drive north from Baghdad to Khan Bani Saad. A prison rises from the desert, complete with more than two dozen guardtowers and surrounded by high concrete walls. But the only signs of life during a recent visit were a guard shack on the entry road and two farmers tending a nearby field.

In March 2004, the Corps of Engineers awarded a $40 million contract to global construction and engineering firm Parsons Corp. to design and build a prison for 3,600 inmates, along with educational and vocational facilities. Work was set to finish in November 2005.

But violence was escalating in the area, home to a volatile mix of Sunni and Shiite extremists. The project started six months late and continued to fall behind schedule, according to a report by the inspector general.

The U.S. government pulled the plug on Parsons in June 2006, citing “continued schedule slips and … massive cost overruns,” but later awarded three more contracts to other companies. Pasadena, Calif.-based Parsons said it did its best under difficult and violent circumstances.

Citing security concerns, the U.S. finally abandoned the project in June 2007 and handed over the unfinished facility to Iraq’s Justice Ministry. The ministry refused to “complete, occupy or provide security” for it, according to the report. More than $1.2 million in unused construction material also was abandoned due to fears of violence.

The inspector general recommended another use be found for the partially finished buildings inside the dusty compound. But three years later, piles of bricks and barbed wire lie around, and tumbleweed is growing in the caked sand.

“It will never hold a single Iraqi prisoner,” said inspector general Stuart Bowen, who has overseen the reconstruction effort since it started. “$40 million wasted in the desert.”

Another problem was coordination with the Iraqis, who have been left with health facilities that would cost at least as much as the Americans spent to complete. One clinic was handed over to local authorities without a staircase, said Shaymaa Mohammed Amin, the head of the Diyala provincial reconstruction and development committee.

“We were almost forced to take them,” she said during an interview at the heavily fortified local government building in the provincial capital of Baqouba. “Generally speaking, they were below our expectations. Huge funds were wasted and they would not have been wasted if plans had been clear from the beginning.”

As an example, she cited a date honey factory that was started despite a more pressing need for schools and vital infrastructure. She said some schools were left without paint or chalkboards, and needed renovations.

“We ended up paying twice,” she said.

In some cases, Iraqi ministries have refused to take on the responsibility for U.S.-funded programs, forcing the Americans to leave abandoned buildings littering the landscape.

“Initially when we came in … we didn’t collaborate as much as we should have with the correct people and figure out what their needs were,” Christensen said. He stressed that Iraqis are now closely involved in all projects.

The U.S. military pinned great hopes on a $5.7 million convention center inside the tightly secured Baghdad International Airport compound, as part of a commercial hub aimed at attracting foreign investors. A few events were held at the sprawling complex, including a three-day energy conference that drew oil executives from as far away as Russia and Japan in 2008, which the U.S. military claimed generated $1 million in revenues.

But the contracts awarded for the halls did not include requirements to connect them to the main power supply. The convention center, still requiring significant work, was transferred to the Iraqi government “as is” on Jan. 20, according to an audit by the inspector general’s office.

The buildings have since fallen into disrepair, and dozens of boxes of fluorescent lightbulbs and other equipment disappeared from the site. Light poles outside have toppled over and the glass facade is missing from large sections of the abandoned buildings.

Waste also came from trying to run projects while literally under fire.

The Americans committed to rebuilding the former Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallujah after it was destroyed in major offensives in 2004. The U.S. awarded an initial contract for a new waste water treatment system to FluorAMEC of Greenville, S.C. — just three months after four American private security contractors were savagely attacked. The charred and mutilated remains of two of them were strung from a bridge in the city.

An audit concluded that it was unrealistic for the U.S. “to believe FluorAMEC could even begin construction, let alone complete the project, while fierce fighting occurred daily.” The report also pointed out repeated redesigns of the project, and financial and contracting problems.

The Fallujah waste water treatment system is nearly complete — four years past the deadline, at a cost of more than three times the original $32.5 million estimate. It has been scaled back to serve just a third of the population, and Iraqi officials said it still lacks connections to houses and a pipe to join neighborhood tanks up with the treatment plant.

Desperate residents, meanwhile, have begun dumping their sewage in the tanks, causing foul odors and running the risk of seepage, according to the head of Fallujah’s municipal council, Sheik Hameed Ahmed Hashim.

“It isn’t appropriate for the Americans to give the city these services without completing these minor details,” Hashim said. “We were able to wipe out part of the memories of the Fallujah battles through this and other projects. … If they leave the project as it is, I think their reputation will be damaged.”

By contrast, the Basra children’s hospital — one of the largest projects undertaken by the U.S. in Iraq — looks like a shining success story, with gardeners tending manicured lawns in preparation for its opening. But that opening has been repeatedly delayed, most recently for a lack of electricity.

The construction of a “state of the art” pediatric specialist hospital with a cancer unit was projected to be completed by December 2005 for about $50 million. By last year, the cost had soared above $165 million, including more than $100 million in U.S. funds, and the equipment was dated, according to an auditors’ report.

Investigators blamed the delays on unrealistic timeframes, poor soil conditions, multiple partners and funding sources and security problems at the site, including the murder of 24 workers. Bechtel, the project contractor, was removed because of monthslong delays blamed on poor sub-contractor performance and limited oversight, the special inspector general’s office said. A Bechtel spokeswoman, Michelle Allen, said the company had recommended in 2006 that work on the hospital be put on hold because of the “intolerable security situation.”

In an acknowledgment that they weren’t getting exactly what they hoped for, Iraqi officials insisted the label “state of the art” be removed from a memorandum of understanding giving them the facility. It was described as a “modern pediatric hospital.”

The hospital’s director, Kadhim Fahad, said construction has been completed and the electricity issue resolved. “The opening will take place soon, God willing,” he said.

Residents are pleased with the outcome. One, Ghassan Kadhim, said: “It is the duty of the Americans to do such projects because they were the ones who inflicted harm on people.”

___

Associated Press Writer Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

16 Responses to America wasted billions ‘rebuilding’ Iraq

  1. Carl Nemo

    August 30, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Ah, nation-building at its finest…no? / : |

    Carl Nemo **==

  2. woody188

    August 30, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    $53.7 billion to rebuild Iraq, $46 billion to rebuild infrastructure in the USA via ARRA. Hmm…

    • Bogofree

      August 30, 2010 at 1:42 pm

      Are the projections in on Afghanistan yet? On that Iraq figure what is the cost per body? Just got an email from my son in the 164th as they take more heavy fire. Nice to know it is over.

      • woody188

        August 30, 2010 at 2:08 pm

        Iraq population is like 26 million. So cost per body is far greater than what they spent per person in the USA where there are 300 million people. Yeah, they just changed the names from “combat brigade” to “advise and assist brigade” even though they have the same mission and do the same things as before.

  3. griff

    August 30, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    I don’t know why any one is surprised at this. After all, didn’t we set out to mold Iraq in our own image?

    Congratulations! Waste, fraud and abuse are now as common there as it is here.

    • Bogofree

      August 30, 2010 at 2:19 pm

      Griff
      I think waste, fraud and abuse were there long before we arrive….only difference is we now fund it. Nice to have a rich uncle.

      • griff

        August 30, 2010 at 2:41 pm

        Don’t think we didn’t fund it before. Why was it we thought they had WMD? Because we gave it to them. We armed them against Iran, just like we did in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union.

        We create our own enemies.

        • woody188

          August 30, 2010 at 2:50 pm

          Now don’t go reminding people that the gas Saddam Hussein used against the Kurds and the Iranians was provided by the USA. Or that we helped him into power as a CIA assassin. Or that Donald Rumsfeld tried to gain his favor by meeting with him in the 80’s to suppy those WMD. Or that we went into Iraq to put an end to a tyrant that used torture and rape rooms, only to set up our own torture and rape rooms. And never mind Saddam was contained and unable to strike at his neighbors, much less Britain or the World. It’s best you just forget those things and enjoy your cheap gas.

          • woody188

            August 30, 2010 at 2:56 pm

            I forgot to mention how we OK’ed his attack against Kuwait and then double-crossed him. How he attacked them in the first place because Kuwait was drilling oil at an angle under the border into Iraq. How we let a Kuwaiti ambassadors daughter spread propaganda that Iraqi’s were killing babies, a complete fabrication. How we massacred most of the Iraqi army as they retreated along the Highway of Death. How Iraq is mostly populated by children 15 and under because we killed all of their parents in the 90’s.

          • griff

            August 30, 2010 at 3:07 pm

            Okay I won’t. Ha. But you go right ahead.

          • Carl Nemo

            August 30, 2010 at 5:09 pm

            Thanks Woody188 for the comprehensive, spot-on wrap concerning the dark side of U.S. foreign ‘aid’ in the Middle East… / : |

            Carl Nemo **==

          • Guardhouse lawyer

            August 31, 2010 at 12:44 pm

            The allegation:

            “Now don’t go reminding people that the gas Saddam Hussein used against the Kurds and the Iranians was provided by the USA.”

            The reality:

            The know-how and material for developing chemical weapons were obtained by Saddam’s regime from foreign firms.[20] The largest suppliers of precursors for chemical weapons production were in Singapore (4,515 tons), the Netherlands (4,261 tons), Egypt (2,400 tons), India (2,343 tons), and West Germany (1,027 tons). One Indian company, Exomet Plastics (now part of EPC Industrie Ltd.) sent 2,292 tons of precursor chemicals to Iraq. The Kim Al-Khaleej firm, located in Singapore and affiliated to United Arab Emirates, supplied more than 4,500 tons of VX, sarin, and mustard gas precursors and production equipment to Iraq.[21

            from wiki article here:
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halabja_poison_gas_attack

            The allegation:

            “. . . we OK’ed his attack against Kuwait and then double-crossed him.”

            The reality:

            As late as July 25 – a week before the invasion of Kuwait – US Ambassador April Glaspie commiserated with Hussein over a “cheap and unjust” profile by ABC’s Diane Sawyer, and wished for an “appearance in the media, even for five minutes,” by Hussein that “would help explain Iraq to the American people.”69

            Glaspie’s ill-chosen comments may have helped convince the dictator that Washington would look the other way if he “annexed” a neighboring kingdom. The invasion of Kuwait, however, crossed a line that the Bush Administration could not tolerate. This time Hussein’s crime was far more serious than simply gassing to death another brood of Kurdish refugees. This time, oil was at stake.

            Source:

            http://www.prwatch.org/books/tsigfy10.html

            Allegation:

            “How he attacked them in the first place because Kuwait was drilling oil at an angle under the border into Iraq.”

            The reality:

            In 1990, Iraq accused Kuwait of stealing Iraq’s oil through slant drilling. Such claims are doubted to have been serious enough to justify war or the occupation of Kuwait, since the limits of directional drilling (at the time) made it unlikely that any such well could have been drilled much more than a mile from the surface location. Even doing so would have involved drilling sites close to the border and the use of sophisticated and easily identifiable equipment and personnel for extreme distances. The United Nations redrew the border after the 1991 Gulf war that liberated Kuwait from a seven-month Iraqi occupation under former leader Saddam Hussein. It placed 11 oil wells, some farms and an old naval base that used to be in Iraq on the Kuwaiti side.[2]

            Source: wiki article on directional drilling

            The allegation:

            “(W)e let a Kuwaiti ambassadors(sic) daughter spread propaganda that Iraqi’s(sic) were killing babies, a complete fabrication. ”

            The reality:

            The Kuwait government hired as many as 20 PR firms to accomplish things like this. These were not actions of the Bush administration, though it is certainly apparent that the administration did little to contravene the lies. It is interesting to note the astuteness of the PR firm handling Nariyah:

            “The Human Rights Caucus is not a committee of congress, and therefore it is unencumbered by the legal accouterments that would make a witness hesitate before he or she lied. … Lying under oath in front of a congressional committee is a crime; lying from under the cover of anonymity to a caucus is merely public relations.”

            John R. MacArthur, Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War, (Berkeley, CA: University of CA Press, 1992), quoted at http://www.prwatch.org/books/tsigfy10.html

            Allegation:

            “(W)e massacred most of the Iraqi army as they retreated along the Highway of Death.”

            According to the wiki article on Highway of Death, the casualties suffered in that “massacre” were between 500 and 1000. I submit that such deaths would not have comprised “most of the Iraqi army.” Particularly since it is estimated by the Defense Intelligence Agency that 70,000 to 80,000 Iraqi troops escaped north into Basra. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/iraq/hammurabi.htm

            Allegation:

            “. . . Iraq is mostly populated by children 15 and under because we killed all of their parents in the 90′s.”

            The reality:

            The wiki article on Demographics of Iraq has these figures, which it claims come from the CIA Factbook:

            0-14 years: 39.7% (male 5,398,645; female 5,231,760)
            15-64 years: 57.3% (male 7,776,257; female 7,576,726)
            65 years and over: 3% (male 376,700; female 423,295) (2006 est.)

            This is from the CIA Factbook as of today:

            0-14 years: 38.8% (male 5,711,187/female 5,514,794)
            15-64 years: 58.2% (male 8,535,550/female 8,303,942)
            65 years and over: 3% (male 410,395/female 469,701) (2010 est.)

            You may note that the percentage of people under 14 has decreases a bit in the four years between 2006 and 2010, and that the population 15 and over has increased from 15.3 to 16.8 million.

            One cannot help but point out that there is a huge disparity between the unsupported allegations and the documented truth; all of the facts and figures I have supplied are easily and quickly found on the Internet. But if one is interested in passing on unsupported (and apparently unsupportable) conspiracy theory-type crap, one needs merely to do a cut and paste of baseless allegations rather than attempting to find and assert truth.

  4. dvl666

    August 30, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    So much for Nation Building and Mission Accomplished. Pissing away Billions there while refusing to spend on our own. The neo-cons sure got this one right. Dick is laughing all the way to the bank. Every Empire fell as it wasted it’s resources far from home while letting the home front deteriorate. Sanorya USA.

  5. Bill

    August 31, 2010 at 2:36 am

    reminds me of that scene in the movie Lawrence of Arabia when all the arabs gathered around the table in Damascus and blamed each other for the failure of each sect to maintain the electric company, the water company, the media, etc.

    As I recall Peter O’Toole strode into the room and pleaded with Alec Guiness who basically told him to go back to the green green hills of merry old England.

    When America gets back to the days of the one true revolution around 1776, maybe someone will step up and do the Washington, George, bit.

  6. griff

    September 1, 2010 at 6:47 am

    Why people would cite the CIA and Wikipedia as “reliable” sources is beyong me.

    • Guardhouse lawyer

      September 1, 2010 at 9:06 am

      If you can refute any of what I said please feel free to do so. They are far more reliable sources than all the right-wing conspiracy theory sites I see bandied about here.

      If you cannot refute them perhaps it is best not to try to belittle the person posting the message.