The U.S. spent more than $160 billion to rebuild war-wrecked Iraq and Afghanistan, but there appears to be little appetite in Washington to fund a third big reconstruction era for Iraq’s ongoing second war.
U.S. officials say this time the responsibility lies with cash-depleted Iraq, which is leading the campaign to evict the Islamic State terrorist army. But if Fallujah and Ramadi are examples, Baghdad has a lot to learn.
Basic humanitarian and rebuilding aid to those western post-battle cities was slow and inconsistent. On the horizon is the daunting job of putting back together Iraq’s second-largest city — Mosul.
“We don’t have a quote ‘reconstruction fund for Iraq,’” a State Department official told The Washington Times. “There is not a specific reconstruction fund for Iraq like there was in 2003.”
The problem goes further than not being able to rebuild. The money vacuum opens the door for terrorist-supporting Iran to inject its influence into more neighborhoods as the U.S. stays out.
“I neither know nor have heard of a post-ISIS plan,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, who commanded troops in the first Iraq war.
The Islamic State is known by the acronyms ISIS, ISIL and Daesh.
“In fact, this vacuum could become a major strategic blunder,” said Mr. Dubik, an analyst at the nonprofit Institute for the Study of War in Washington. “If the post-Ramadi and post-Fallujah actions are any sign of what will happen after Mosul is cleared, I think we are justified in concluding Iraq may repeat previous errors.”
He added: “Iraq needs a real partner to help it move forward in a positive way. Iran is not such a partner, but if the U.S. and other coalition nations don’t form a partnership with Iraq, Iran will, and the results will not be good — for Iraq, the U.S. or the region.”
A military source in Baghdad told The Times there is little talk among ministers about the job ahead of repairing the damage to a number of cities such as Mosul, which has been held by relentless Islamic State henchmen for two years.
“When you ask them what’s going to happen the day after, just the rebuilding challenge they just kind of shrug their shoulders and shake their heads,” the source said. “No one I talk to has a good answer because it’s just a conundrum of how you handle the day after. I said, ‘Where’s the money coming from?’ [They said] ‘We don’t have any idea.’ ‘How are you going to sort out the humanitarian problem with devastated villages?’ No one has come to that.”
Special U.S. auditors for both wars have issued blistering reports on the amount of money wasted on defective buildings, unused roads, failed water projects and fraud.
On Capitol Hill aides say they know of no movement to set up a new Marshall Plan (the rebuilding of post-World War II Europe) as was done in the early 2000s for Iraq and Afghanistan. The lack of funds is partly due to those audits and because, unlike the 2003 war, the U.S. is not leading the current campaign.
“If we were breaking things, we would fix it,” said Joe Kasper, chief of staff to Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “But we’re not breaking things anymore. The Iraqis are.”
The ultimate answer then is international fundraising for major projects: humanitarian aid such as food, water, temporary living quarters; a stabilization program to get basic services running again; and reconstruction.
This is how funding to date shapes up: The U.S. has provided $1.1 billion in humanitarian aid since 2014, when the Islamic State swept into northern Iraq. Washington sponsored a donors’ conference last summer that raised $2 billion for humanitarian aide, basic stabilization and ridding areas of the Islamic State’s far-flung improvised explosive devices. The United Nations has been asked to provide $1.8 billion for similar needs.
Today, that fundraising system is not keeping up with immediate needs, such as taking care of migrants, much less funding new bricks and mortar.
One example: The U.N.-backed International Organization for Migration estimates the occupation and battle for Mosul will produce 3 million displaced people. It has raised $93 million to help them but needs over $50 million more.
The U.N.’s World Food Program also has a shortfall.
“WFP Iraq continues to require further staff and funding in order to adequately respond to continuing mass displacement around the city of Mosul,” it said in an October report. “While WFP currently aims to support 1.8 million food insecure people each month, $82.3 million will be needed to assist an additional 1.5 million people affected in and around Mosul until the end of 2016. The unpredictability of the situation in Mosul and the Mosul corridor will add to the challenge of responding to those needing food assistance.”
One lesson from the nine-year rebuilding in the first Iraq War is that it is difficult to conduct a Marshall Plan when the enemy is still active and knocking down things the allies built.
Stuart Bowen, the former special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said in his final report that it is best to start with small projects until the security environment improves. Otherwise, insurgents — in this case the Islamic State — will target new schools, clinics and homes.
“In Iraq, enormous projects pressed forward despite an ever-more-aggravated security environment — a costly mistake,” Mr. Bowen wrote. “Limited projects executed in less than perfectly stable conditions can have a counterinsurgency effect. But they must be sized to the situation and wisely targeted to meet local needs.”
One item that became a symbol of construction delays and cost overruns was a water and sewer project for Fallujah, the town in Sunni Anbar province that the Marines conquered twice only to see the Islamic State take it over in 2014.
By 2008 the project’s cost tripled to over $100 million, and pipes lay buried in and around Fallujah, unused, Mr. Bowen found.
By 2012 the U.S. Army Corps in Engineers announced that the wastewater treatment aspect of the program had been completed. The Islamic State captured the town two years later.