Watchdog blasts U.S. billions ‘wasted’ in Iraq reconstruction costs

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Reconstruction efforts in Iraq by the United States have left the Middle East country unstable, violent and even more broken than it was before the American invasion, despite the U.S. having spent $15 million every day for nearly a decade, according to a new report from an independent watchdog Wednesday.

The original reconstruction fund allocated by the George W. Bush administration after the invasion in 2003 was $2.4 billion. But more than $60 billion ended up being spent by successive administrations, much of it with little oversight or accountability, Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, found.

The report to Congress, Mr. Bowen’s latest and final publication, makes the “conservative estimate” that $8 billion of the $60 billion was wasted outright, and another $1 billion lost to fraud.

But the report also concludes that almost none of the money was spent in ways that got good value for the investment. And it quotes critical assessments of the effort from the very people it was intended to help: Iraqis.

In interviews with Mr. Bowen quoted in the report, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the huge amount of U.S. cash “could have brought great change in Iraq” but fell short. “There was misspending of money,” he said.

“You think if you throw money at a problem, you can fix it,” Kurdish government official Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, told auditors. “It was just not strategic thinking.”

The report looks only at spending on Iraq’s reconstruction — not the costs of the 8½-year U.S. military effort there that ended in December 2011. Those costs are estimated by federal auditors at about $800 billion.

U.S. military personnel, diplomats and contractors cycled in and out of Iraq in tours as short as three months, while some of Mr. Bowen’s oversight and investigations staff stayed for four or five years, he told the Al-Monitor website.

But despite that consistency over nearly nine years, some of the staff seem to think that they were not able to make much of a difference.

“These are things we pointed out in 2005,” Deputy Inspector General Glenn Furbish told Bloomberg News about problems with the reconstruction effort that led to massive waste, fraud and abuse. “They remained until the military left. That was the most frustrating issue I encountered.”

For his part, Mr. Bowen told Al-Monitor, he had identified $1.6 billion in benefits to the reconstruction effort stemming directly from the work of his office.

His report is particularly critical of one effort, a $4 billion slush fund known as the Commanders’ Emergency Response Program.

CERP provided bundles of U.S. dollars to junior officers to use as “walking around money” to compensate civilian victims of U.S. military action and for short-term reconstruction projects.

Even now, a decade later, the report finds, it is impossible to say what benefits the $4 billion CERP program actually bought. Commanders’ record-keeping was incomplete, inconsistent and inexact.

“This renders suspect commander narratives, academic studies, and other analyses that claim success [for the CERP program] based on that data,” the report concludes.

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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