April 30, 2007 in Nation/World

Audit sees little Iraq progress

Ron Powers Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – U.S. efforts to rebuild Iraq are so beset with daily violence, corruption and poor maintenance that Iraqis will not be capable of managing reconstruction anytime soon, investigators say.

The latest audit by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction found that uncertainty and delays plague a U.S.-led war and rebuilding effort that has already cost nearly $400 billion.

Echoing what U.S. military commanders have acknowledged in recent days, the 210-page report being released today found that security remains highly volatile. Rates of attacks are lower, but attacks are more devastating, meaning greater disruption of services and public works.

Corruption among Iraqi officials also appeared to be worsening. Iraq’s annual financial loss now exceeds $5 billion due to fraud and abuse that “afflicts virtually every Iraqi ministry,” according to the report. It cites the ministries of oil, interior and defense as the biggest offenders.

“Persistent attacks on U.S.-funded infrastructure projects and sustainment challenges could jeopardize the completion of projects by their planned end-dates of mid- to late-2008,” according to the report.

In a cover letter, Inspector General Stuart Bowen Jr. said the Iraqi government was assuming more of the financial burden for the recovery effort, but U.S. support “will remain relatively robust for the foreseeable future.”

Responding to specific portions of the audit, William Lynch, acting director of the State Department’s Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, indicated that it was unfair for investigators to hold the U.S. responsible for several of the cited problems, such as maintenance issues that he said were the Iraqis’ responsibility.

“Recommendations such as how much water to use in cleaning floors or disposal of medical waste could be deemed as an intrusion on, or attempt to micro-manage operations of an Iraqi entity that we have no controlling interest over,” Lynch wrote.

The report comes out as President Bush and the Democratic-controlled Congress struggle to chart the future of the war and reconstruction effort.

Bush has pledged to veto a $124.2 billion war spending bill this week that would require the beginning of U.S. troop withdrawals by Oct. 1. Both sides are laying the groundwork for post-veto negotiations that Democrats hope will establish benchmarks.

In recent days, Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, has said the war effort may well get harder before it gets easier – with “an enormous commitment” still required by the United States.

In the report, investigators echoed that finding.

The report said the Baghdad government was making progress toward weeding out corrupt bureaucrats and that some officials, including eight ministers and 40 directors general, have been referred to the judiciary system in connection with the mismanagement of about $8 billion.

Where U.S.-funded projects are built and handed over to the Iraqis, they “are not being adequately maintained,” the study said.

Sustainability is an important factor in explaining the slow progress in a sectors such as oil, gas, water and electricity.

The report says that if Bowen’s “sustainment reviews are representative of the quality and effectiveness of operation and maintenance on transitioned projects, the value of the United States investment in Iraqi reconstruction will be at risk.”

Maintenance also was a problem.

Summarizing audits it released in recent days, Bowen’s office said inspections of eight U.S.-funded projects found widespread waste, decay and deterioration.

The problems ranged from sewage backups and makeshift electrical wiring at a recruiting center to hypodermic needles, bandages and other medical wastes in the sewer system’s traps and septic tank at a maternity and pediatric hospital.

Insurgent attacks, along with a limited judicial system and law enforcement problems, hinder the progress of reconstruction and threaten to jeopardize the completion of U.S.-funded projects.

The Defense Department reports an average of 1.4 insurgent attacks per week on critical elements in the electric, water, oil and gas sectors. Further worsening the situation, the report says, “repair teams sent in after attacks continue to face threats, including kidnapping and murder.”

The violence has shut down railroads, forced the closing of schools and universities and slowed the construction of primary health care centers.

Among other findings:

•While targets for training and equipping Iraqi security forces have been achieved, the actual number of forces available at any given time is a concern.

•The actual number of present-for-duty soldiers is about one-half to one-third of the total because of scheduled leave, absence without leave and attrition.

•While the target of training 135,000 Iraqi police was met during the quarter, there were problems in getting the police where they were needed.

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