- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 23, 2007

The U.S. military is making a concerted effort to push Iraq’s government, civil service and business community to work effectively together, but it remains a long-term project, a top military official in Iraq said yesterday.

Maj. Gen. Darryl A. Scott, head of the Joint Contracting Command for Iraq and Afghanistan, said some 52 percent of all contracts are now going to Iraqi companies working around the country.

The move, he told The Washington Times in a telephone interview from Baghdad, came in response to “very high-profile failures by large international companies” on past reconstruction deals.

This year, the United States placed $650 million worth of contracts with Iraqis, which have generated jobs for almost 42,000 Iraqis, Gen. Scott said. He did not specify if these jobs were short- or long-term.

About half of the contracted work supports the U.S. military, while 28 percent is targeted for infrastructure and the remainder is earmarked primarily to help build up the Iraqi security forces.

“We have taken those projects and re-awarded them to Iraqi companies, and they are coming in on schedule and under-budget,” Gen. Scott said.

Congressional critics and government auditors have charged that, because of a lack of oversight, many Iraqi contractors are also under-delivering on their contracts, making enormous profits as a result.

“There is no accountability. The Iraqis who secure these contracts can essentially take the money and run,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, California Democrat, at a May 22 hearing.

Some Iraqi contractors responsible for delivering fresh food, water and gear to Iraqi soldiers were discovered earlier this year by Command Sgt. Maj. Jeff Mellinger — who served as right-hand man to U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David H. Petraeus — to be holding back those deliveries.

Gen. Scott said the U.S. government was aggressively improving the quality of oversight and establishing international standards when working with Iraqi bidders. But he added that “anti-corruption is out of my lane.”

“My responsibility ends when we uncover suspicious practices and we turn those over to investigative agencies,” he said.

An April 30 report to Congress by the government’s chief auditing office on Iraqi reconstruction identified four priorities: better budget controls; anti-corruption; implementing the Baghdad security plan; and supporting regional development through “provincial reconstruction teams.” .

The report found that in 2006 the Iraqi government spent only 59 percent of its fiscal year budget and just 18 percent of the money allocated for capital projects. Estimates put the loss to the government and economy from corruption at over $5 billion.

Gen. Scott said he could not give an estimate on when the Iraqi government would be able to handle reconstruction efforts on its own.

“I don’t have a number for you,” he said.

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