Monday, February 27, 2006

The Bush administration never drew up a comprehensive plan for rebuilding Iraq after the March 2003 invasion, which contributed to a severe shortage of skilled federal workers in Baghdad and to the mismanagement of the country’s oil money, according to a new government report.

“There was insufficient systematic planning for human capital management in Iraq before and during the U.S.-directed stabilization and reconstruction operations,” said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, in a new “lessons learned” report released yesterday. “The practical limitations ensuing from this shortfall adversely affected reconstruction in post-war Iraq.”

The Pentagon’s initial plans for reconstruction crumbled when it encountered an unexpected foreign and domestic insurgency that looted the country, sabotaged electric and water service, and killed hundreds of Americans and Iraqis in 2003 after the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein.

The administration reacted by quickly establishing the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), directed by L. Paul Bremer, and pumped billions of dollars of United Nations-held oil cash into Baghdad.

But, Mr. Bowen concluded in a report focusing on the CPA’s staffing, “[t]he unanticipated post-war collapse of virtually all Iraqi governing structures, substantially hindered coalition efforts to develop and rapidly execute an effective reconstruction program.”

The report was the latest in a series of audits and updates from Mr. Bowen to document how the Bush administration oversaw more than $30 billion in Iraq cash — the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI) — and about $24 billion in U.S. taxpayer money for reconstruction.

Mr. Bowen’s investigators found significant fraud in the disbursement of millions of DFI dollars that the CPA failed to safeguard. The new Iraqi government controls the fund and says that as much as $1 billion alone was stolen by Iraqis inside the Defense Ministry. Mr. Bowen has not found significant fraud in the administering of the U.S. funds, he has said.

His report quotes a “senior Department of Defense official” as saying that “the U.S. government was not systemically structured to execute overseas reconstruction and stabilization programs.” The pre-invasion planning, the official said, “naturally focused on military requirements.”

The Pentagon since has made post-conflict stability concerns a major part of contingency planning right alongside preparing for the war itself, according to a new policy directive.

“There was no existing contingency organization to lead the reconstruction and relief process,” Mr. Bowen said. He quoted a State Department official as saying: “We have no contemporary doctrine for occupying another country.”

The Pentagon did not name someone to head the reconstruction effort (then called the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance) until January 2003, just two months before the March invasion. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner said he was not able to start staffing the organization until February.

When the CPA took over that May, the deteriorating security environment made it all the more difficult to recruit federal workers.

“The ability and willingness of U.S. government agencies to provide detailers to CPA had declined,” according to the report.

“The coalition nations have millions of the most talented individuals in the world,” said retired Rear Adm. David Oliver, who directed CPA’s budget. “We needed, and did not have, several thousand of them. Our partners sent some of the best and brightest. The United States did not proportionally provide.”

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