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Iraq fails to maintain U.S. reconstruction projects

- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

An Iraqi power plant rebuilt with tens of millions of U.S. dollars fell into disrepair once transferred to the Baghdad government, according to the U.S. office that tracks reconstruction spending.

The Iraqis' failure to maintain the 320-megawatt Dora plant, considered an important source of power for electricity-starved Baghdad, is just one of the issues hindering attempts to rebuild the country, the latest audit report to Congress concludes.

Also crippling the efforts are anemic capital spending by Iraq's central government ministries and its provinces; continued challenges faced by contractors in fulfilling the terms of their contracts; and endemic corruption. Such theft, fraud, skimming and other corruption amount to a "second insurgency," the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart Bowen Jr., wrote in his quarterly report, released today.

"It's another enemy that Iraq has to fight. Security is the paramount challenge that the Iraqi government has to solve, but right behind that is corruption, particularly involving oil smuggling," Mr. Bowen told the Associated Press yesterday.

"This report presents a mixed picture," he said. "But it's too early to say whether we are going to render effective, enduring results. There are signs of progress this year."

Among those signs, Mr. Bowen said, is Iraq's production of 2.1 million barrels of oil a day in the latest quarter, compared with 1.9 million the previous quarter and 1.8 million barrels before that. He noted that Iraq was producing more than 2.4 million barrels a day before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Despite the setbacks with the power plant, Mr. Bowen said, Iraq's electricity supply rose to 4,230 megawatts, compared with 3,900 megawatts during the previous quarter and 3,800 before that. That is still below the prewar level of 4,500 megawatts, he said. Just two years ago, Iraq's electricity supply was more than 5,000 megawatts.

"Projects are getting done," he said. "But the impediment to growth in outputs of those has been insurgent attacks on the grid."

The watchdog office provides oversight of the $44 billion allocated by Congress to rebuild Iraq. Mr. Bowen said he will testify before Congress tomorrow about the latest report.

The inspector general also found the Iraqi government has refused to take control of more than 2,000 U.S.-funded reconstruction projects since June 2006. Even when the Iraqi government has accepted rebuilt projects, it has let them languish.

The two units at the Dora power plant, for example, are not working despite a $90 million effort to repair them. The plant's Iraqi operators cannibalized equipment from one of the units as it neared functioning status to repair the second, after it had failed because of improper maintenance and operation. That second unit eventually failed again, according to the report.

The problems do not rest solely with the Iraqis, according to the report.

An audit of a $1.33 billion contract won by Bechtel National Inc. found that about half the water, sanitation, power and other projects awarded to the San Francisco engineering company failed to meet their stated goals. Some were canceled, others only partially completed or transferred to other organizations for completion, the report said.

The government, too, hampered Bechtel's efforts by failing to provide sufficient staff to oversee the contract. Extensive use of subcontractors has made oversight difficult, leading to poor outcomes in some projects.