- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Bush administration’s special investigator for Iraq reconstruction has expanded inquiries into how the U.S. military is training and equipping the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), according to an internal Pentagon memo.

Special Inspector General Stuart W. Bowen Jr. asked the Pentagon for reams of documents on the billions of dollars spent to create an Iraqi army, police, border patrol, navy and air force, the memo shows.

Some Pentagon officials say privately that the inspector is overstepping his mandate by probing U.S. military operations in addition to reconstruction dollars. But the chief spokesman for Mr. Bowen said security and reconstruction are intertwined.

“There is Iraq relief and reconstruction money that is for security and that is in our mandate,” said spokesman James P. Mitchell. “There has been an American investment in the security and justice sectors, and we have an obligation to look at that.”

Mr. Mitchell said Mr. Bowen has been seeking more documents from the Pentagon. An April memo signed by a senior Pentagon official confirms he will receive them. “We needed to get that high level of support, and we have that,” he said.

Congress created, and President Bush appointed, the special inspector general to provide critically needed oversight on $24 billion in U.S. funds and billions of dollars in Iraq oil money being used to rebuild Iraq after the 2003 ousting of Saddam Hussein. Mr. Bowen’s reports and audits mostly have dealt with water, electricity, oil and infrastructure projects that are considered crucial if Iraq is to emerge as a functioning democracy.

Just as important is the U.S. nurturing of the ISF, which now numbers about 250,000. Withdrawing about 132,000 American troops in Iraq is dependent on the ISF’s ability to fight the deadly insurgency largely on its own.

Mr. Mitchell said the inspector general has looked at ISF issues, but the new Pentagon data will allow for a closer examination.

The Pentagon memo to Mr. Bowen vouched for SIGIR, the acronym for Mr. Bowen’s office. “The Department of Defense fully supports SIGIR’s work in support of the Iraqi reconstruction effort,” said the memo, signed by William R. Marriott, executive secretary in the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Mr. Bowen has submitted a request for documents in three areas: the creation of the ISF, the building of security facilities, and what is called “capacity building” in the new ministries of Interior and Defense, the Marriott memo said. The memo was a response to an April 4 letter from Mr. Bowen.

On the ISF request, the Pentagon response was that Mr. Bowen should rely on the quarterly reports it provided to Congress.

“The report provides extensive information on the objectives for training and equipping Iraq’s security forces, the metrics for measuring their progress and amplifying data,” Mr. Marriott stated. “Because the report provides metrics and data specifically requested by Congress, it should be sufficient for purposes of writing your quarterly report.”

The memo said the Pentagon’s Defense Reconstruction Support Office will supply information on building bases for the ISF, but that the Pentagon is unaware of any U.S. funds for Interior or Defense capacity building.

To some in the Pentagon, Mr. Bowen’s request for ISF documents is a foray into areas Congress never authorized. They characterized Mr. Marriott’s response as reserved.

“This is further evidence that SIGIR is overreaching,” said a senior defense official, who asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to speak for the Pentagon. “Congress never intended him to investigate all these things.”

This same official has been critical of some of SIGIR’s draft reports because officials become tied up with correcting them instead of focusing on reconstruction.

Mr. Mitchell said most draft findings come back with the notation “concur.” He said Mr. Bowen’s reports and recommendations have resulted in improved use of taxpayer money.

“We’re focusing on all the sectors, but because it’s so important and we have identified and talked about the ‘reconstruction gap,’ which was a function of moving money into security and putting more money into security, it’s kind of hard to report on what the U.S. is doing in Iraq without looking at security,” Mr. Bowen said.

The gap refers to the difference between the number of construction projects originally planned and the number built, which was reduced because money was shifted to security.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide