- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Major U.S. companies with multimillion-dollar contracts for Iraq reconstruction are being forced to devote 12.5 percent of their expenses for security because of violence in the region, investigators said yesterday.

Meanwhile, tens of millions of U.S. dollars have been wasted elsewhere in Iraq reconstruction aid, some of it on an Olympic-size swimming pool ordered by Iraqi officials for a police academy that has yet to be used.

The quarterly audit by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, is the latest to paint a grim picture of waste, fraud and frustration in an Iraq war and reconstruction effort that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $300 billion.

According to the report, nine of the largest U.S. contractors in Iraq reported paying significant amounts of money for personal security for their workers. Contractor security costs ranged from 7.6 percent to 16.7 percent, or an average of 12.5 percent, the report said.

“The security situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, hindering progress in all reconstruction sectors and threatening the overall reconstruction effort,” according to the 579-page report.

Calling Iraq’s sectarian violence the greatest challenge, Mr. Bowen told the Associated Press that billions of dollars in U.S. aid spent on strengthening security have had a limited effect. He said reconstruction now will fall largely on Iraqis to manage — and they are not ready for the task.

Former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, Indiana Democrat and co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, said yesterday that the report shows the uphill battle for the United States and the international community in their efforts to bring stability to Iraq.

“There are very, very few things that hurt our effort more in trying to succeed in Iraq than that kind of performance, because it turns all people off,” Mr. Hamilton said during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

President Bush is pressing Congress to approve $1.2 billion in new reconstruction aid as part of his broader plan to stabilize Iraq by sending 21,500 more U.S. troops to Baghdad and Anbar province.

Democrats in Congress have been skeptical. Sen. James H. Webb Jr. of Virginia has suggested the United States is spending too much on Iraq reconstruction at the expense of Hurricane Katrina rebuilding in New Orleans, while Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California plans in-depth hearings next week into charges of Iraq waste and fraud.

According to the report, the State Department paid $43.8 million to contractor DynCorp International for a residential camp for police training outside of Baghdad’s Adnan Palace grounds, which has stood empty for months. About $4.2 million of the money was improperly spent on 20 VIP trailers and an Olympic-size pool, all ordered by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior but never authorized by the United States. A spokesman for DynCorp, Greg Lagana, did not return a phone message seeking comment.

U.S. officials spent another $36.4 million for weapons such as armored vehicles, body armor and communications equipment that can’t be accounted for.

The State Department said in the report that it was working to improve controls.

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