Since the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the U.S. taxpayer has been rebuilding Iraq and – for just as long – I have been complaining about this being unnecessary and even counterproductive. (See here, here, and here for sample critiques.)
Comes a report today by Timothy Williams in the New York Times, "U.S. Fears Iraqis Will Not Keep Up Rebuilt Projects" that tops off my unhappiness. Excerpts:
In its largest reconstruction effort since the Marshall Plan, the United States government has spent $53 billion for relief and reconstruction in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, building tens of thousands of hospitals, water treatment plants, electricity substations, schools and bridges.
But there are growing concerns among American officials that Iraq will not be able to adequately maintain the facilities once the Americans have left, potentially wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and jeopardizing Iraq's ability to provide basic services to its people. The projects run the gamut — from a cutting-edge, $270 million water treatment plant in Nasiriya that works at a fraction of its intended capacity because it is too sophisticated for Iraqi workers to operate, to a farmers' market that farmers cannot decide how to share, to a large American hospital closed immediately after it was handed over to Iraq because the government was unable to supply it with equipment, a medical staff or electricity. …
In hundreds of cases during the past two years, the Iraqi government has refused or delayed the transfer of American-built projects because it cannot staff or maintain them, Iraqi and American government officials say. Other facilities, including hospitals, schools and prisons built with American funds, have remained empty long after they were completed because there were not enough Iraqis trained to operate them.
"As large-scale construction projects — power plants, water-treatment systems and oil facilities — have been completed, there has been concern regarding the ability of Iraqis to maintain and fund their operations once they are handed over to the Iraqi authorities," said a recent analysis prepared for Congress by the Congressional Research Service. … Stuart W. Bowen Jr., inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said his watchdog agency had "regularly raised concerns about the potential waste of U.S. taxpayer money resulting from reconstruction projects that were poorly planned, badly transferred, or insufficiently sustained by the Iraqi government."
Things will only get worse as the American occupiers "continue to depart in large numbers, taking with them their money, equipment and expertise."
The article provides some specific instances:
In Hilla, 60 miles south of Baghdad, a recently completed $4 million maternity hospital built by the Americans is open, but the staff members cannot operate much of its equipment. "The building is fairly good and the Americans have provided the hospital with a variety of high-tech medical devices, but they did not pay attention to the training of doctors in how to use them," said Jawad al-Jubouri, a district officer.
In Falluja, west of Baghdad, a $98 million wastewater treatment plant built by the United States serves only one-third of the homes it was intended to serve, because the Iraqi government has not supplied it with sufficient fuel, "raising the possibility that the U.S. effort has been wasted," according to a special inspector general's report.
At Ibn Sina Hospital in Baghdad, which had been the American military's largest medical center in the country, Iraqi security forces took up guard positions even before the conclusion of a ceremonial transfer to the Iraqi government last month. The hospital, however, has been closed because the Health Ministry lacks the staff and equipment to reopen it, though the American military said it left $7.9 million in equipment behind.
Opening of the Basra Children's Hospital has been delayed by more than four years – and the project is still not ready.
Iraq's most notorious reconstruction project might be the $165 million Basra Children's Hospital in the south, championed by Laura Bush when she was the first lady. Its completion has been delayed by more than four years, and the project is $115 million over budget. Once the hospital opens — perhaps next year — there will be too few doctors and other medical staff members to take advantage of much of its modern equipment. "It was supposed to open in March, but I don't think it will be ready," said Ahmed Qassim, the hospital's director. He added: "Maybe July, but we don't know. Maybe not July."
What gets my goat is that Iraqis don't even appreciate what they have been given. The Times article quotes Ali Ghalib Baban, Iraq's minister of planning, dismissing the $53 billion on the grounds that it has not had a discernible impact. "Maybe they spent it, but Iraq doesn't feel it."
Comment: One's tempted to blame Iraqis for this travesty but the real blame belongs with the George W. Bush administration which had a vision of "a free, … stable, democratic, and prosperous Iraq" and did not let realities get in the way of its fantasy. As so often was the case with Bush, the motives were good but the implementation terrible. (November 21, 2009)
June 22, 2010 update: Iraq's hapless electricity grid symbolizes the disastrous waste of money – especially at a moment that the temperatures have soared over 120 degrees Farhenheit (49 Celsius). The Associated Press reports:
Billions of dollars have been spent trying to fix the grid since the 2003 invasion, but many Iraqis still get less than six hours of electricity per day - about the same or sometimes even less than they received under Saddam Hussein. Fears that frustration could lead to bloodshed were realized Saturday in the hot and humid southern oil port of Basra, where two protesters were killed after a demonstration over power outages turned violent, prompting security forces to open fire. The crisis has already led to the electricity minister's resignation and poses a major test for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. … It also complicates efforts to stabilize the country as the U.S. military prepares to withdraw its forces by the end of next year. …
"Everything that was thrown at the problem between 2003 and early 2007 was wasted money because whatever was built was blown up," said Samuel Ciszuk, a regional energy analyst with IHS Global Insight. … patience is running thin this year with a heat wave in the south, anger over the political deadlock and failure of the government to deliver after years of promises.
July 3, 2010 update: More bad news, reports Timothy Williams in "U.S. Fails to Complete, or Cuts Back, Iraqi Projects."
After two devastating battles between American forces and Sunni insurgents in 2004, this city needed almost everything new roads, clean water, electricity, health care. The American reconstruction authorities decided, however, that the first big rebuilding project to win hearts and minds would be a citywide sewage treatment system. Now, after more than six years of work, $104 million spent, and without having connected a single house, American reconstruction officials have decided to leave the troubled system only partly finished, infuriating many city residents. … the sewage treatment system has left some of the city's busiest streets lined with open trenches for more than three years and engendered widespread resentment. …
The project was conceived to treat waste for all of Falluja's 200,000 residents and to build in additional capacity for the city to grow by 50 percent. But the new, diminished system will serve only 4,300 homes, or about one-sixth of Falluja's population, according to American and Iraqi officials. Further, because both the project's scope and efficiency have been reduced so dramatically, American officials acknowledge that the system may emit a foul odor if it ever does become functional. …
Four Iraqis have died during construction, including at least one person overcome by toxic fumes, according to workers at the site. Iraqi engineers also say they have complained to Americans about the poor quality of some of the work, but have been ignored. There are also concerns about the system's sustainability once American engineers leave. American planners say training for Iraqi engineers to learn to operate and maintain the system would require at least several months, but a proposed yearlong training program has not been financed.
And this, of course, is just one of many hapless efforts the American taxpayer has funded. The failures are coming to light as U.S. troops leave the construction sites they had been working on. "Even some of the projects that will be completed are being finished with such haste, Iraqi officials say, that engineering standards have deteriorated precipitously, putting workers in danger and leaving some of the work at risk of collapse."
July 27, 2010 update: The Washington Post headline tells the story: "Pentagon can't account for how it spent $2.6 billion in Iraqi funds, audit finds." Some details:
U.S. officials failed to create bank accounts for $8.7 billion in the Development Fund for Iraq, as mandated by the Department of Treasury, creating "breakdowns in controls [that] left the funds vulnerable to inappropriate uses and undetected loss," according to the report, which is scheduled to be released Tuesday. … "Weak oversight is directly correlated to increased numbers of cases of theft and abuse, with the majority of convictions to date being traceable to the 2003-2004 time-frame where accounting practices were weakest," Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said in an e-mail.
Then the kicker: "The alleged mismanagement of the fund has angered Iraqi officials, who have raised the possibility of taking legal action against the United States."
Aug. 1, 2010 update: Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times takes a close look at the vexing issue of the electricity supply in Iraq in "A Benchmark of Progress, Electrical Grid Fails Iraqis":
From the beginning of the war more than seven years ago, the state of electricity has been one of the most closely watched benchmarks of Iraq's progress, and of the American effort to transform a dictatorship into a democracy. And yet, as the American combat mission — Operation Iraqi Freedom, in the Pentagon's argot — officially ends this month, Iraq's government still struggles to provide one of the most basic services. …
Iraq now has elections, a functioning, if imperfect, army and an oil industry on the cusp of a potential boom. Yet Baghdad, the capital, had five hours of electricity a day in July. The chronic power shortages are the result of myriad factors, including war, drought and corruption, but ultimately they reflect a dysfunctional government that remains deadlocked and unresponsive to popular will. …
Even Iraqis suspicious of American motives hoped that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would bring modern, competent governance. Still, the streets are littered with trash, drinking water is polluted, hospitals are bleak and often unsafe, and buildings bombed by the Americans in 2003 or by insurgents since remain ruined shells. What is clear is that Iraqis' expectations of a reliable supply of electricity and other services, like their expectations of democracy itself, have exceeded what either Americans or the country's quarrelling politicians have so far been able to meet. …
The shortages since have hobbled economic development and disrupted almost every aspect of daily life. They have transformed cities. Rumbling generators outside homes and other buildings — previously nonexistent — and thickets of wires as dense as a jungle canopy have become as much a part of Iraq's cityscapes as blast walls and checkpoints. Most of the generators are privately operated, and the cost — roughly $7 per ampere — has for ordinary Iraqis become too exorbitant to power anything more than a light and a television. …
The United States has spent $5 billion on electrical projects alone, nearly 10 percent of the $53 billion it has devoted to rebuilding Iraq, second only to what it has spent on rebuilding Iraq's security forces. It has had some effect, but there have also been inefficiency and corruption, as there have been in projects to rebuild schools, water and sewerage systems, roads and ports.
The special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., said that one quarter of 54 reconstruction projects his office had investigated — including those providing electricity and other basic services — had not been completed or carried on by the Iraqis they were built for.
The United States is now winding such projects down, leaving some unfinished and others, already in disrepair, in the hands of national and provincial governments that so far seem unwilling or unable to maintain and operate them adequately. … Iraq's electrical grid remains a patchwork of old power plants and new, supplemented with makeshift and inadequate solutions. Iraq now imports 700 megawatts from Iran. When temperatures soared this summer, it paid for two electricity-generating ships from Turkey to dock near Basra, one of the most badly affected cities, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Some of us wish the U.S. government never took responsibility for rebuilding Iraq, but it did, to its current regret:
American diplomats and military commanders respond defensively when pressed on why, after all the American investments and expertise, Iraq still struggles to provide electricity. They cite challenges that would overwhelm any government trying to fix a country emerging from dictatorship and war: violence, climate, aging infrastructure and soaring demand, which they call a sign of a burgeoning consumer society.
Iraqis, naturally, blame the Americans:
"This is the fault of the Americans," the deputy minister of electricity, Ra'ad al-Haras, said. "They put in place a big, wide-open democracy after the regime. They went from zero democracy to 100 percent. Democracy has to be step by step. You see the result."
Jan. 3, 2011 update: An in-depth report by Ernesto Londoño in the Washington Post, "Demise of Iraqi water park illustrates limitations, abuse of U.S. funding program," provides many more details on the inefficacy of U.S. spending in Iraq:
In the spring of 2008, Gen. David H. Petraeus decided he had spent enough time gazing from his helicopter at an empty and desolate lake on the banks of the Tigris River. He ordered the lake refilled and turned into a water park for all of Baghdad to enjoy. The military doctrine behind the project holds that cash can be as effective as bullets.
Under Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq at the time, that principle gained unprecedented emphasis, and it has become a cornerstone of the war effort in Afghanistan, now under Petraeus's command.
But today the Baghdad park is nearly waterless, more than two years after a U.S. military inauguration ceremony that included a marching band and water-scooter rides. Much of the compound is in ruins, swing sets have become piles of twisted steel, and the personal watercraft's engines have been gutted for spare parts.
Londoño observes that this failed effort at Jadriyah Lake park points to the general waste of $5 billion under the control of the U.S. military under the Commander's Emergency Response Program. He condemns this as creating "a temporary illusion of progress" and explains the root cause: "a lack of U.S. foresight and … the shortcomings of an Iraqi government the Americans were trying to boost."
Read the full article for details about the series of errors.
June 13, 2011 update: More bad news about missing funds, as reported by Paul Richter of the Los Angeles Times and summarized in the headline: "Missing Iraq money may have been stolen, auditors say: U.S. Defense officials still cannot say what happened to $6.6 billion, sent by the planeload in cash and intended for Iraq's reconstruction after the start of the war." Some excerpts:
After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the George W. Bush administration flooded the conquered country with so much cash to pay for reconstruction and other projects in the first year that a new unit of measurement was born. Pentagon officials determined that one giant C-130 Hercules cargo plane could carry $2.4 billion in shrink-wrapped bricks of $100 bills. They sent an initial full planeload of cash, followed by 20 other flights to Iraq by May 2004 in a $12-billion haul that U.S. officials believe to be the biggest international cash airlift of all time.
This month, the Pentagon and the Iraqi government are finally closing the books on the program that handled all those Benjamins. But despite years of audits and investigations, U.S. Defense officials still cannot say what happened to $6.6 billion in cash — enough to run the Los Angeles Unified School District or the Chicago Public Schools for a year, among many other things.
For the first time, federal auditors are suggesting that some or all of the cash may have been stolen, not just mislaid in an accounting error. Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an office created by Congress, said the missing $6.6 billion may be "the largest theft of funds in national history." …
The cash was carried by tractor-trailer trucks from the fortress-like Federal Reserve currency repository in East Rutherford, N.J., to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, then flown to Baghdad. U.S. officials there stored the hoard in a basement vault at one of Hussein's former palaces, and at U.S. military bases, and eventually distributed the money to Iraqi ministries and contractors. But U.S. officials often didn't have time or staff to keep strict financial controls. Millions of dollars were stuffed in gunnysacks and hauled on pickups to Iraqi agencies or contractors, officials have testified. …
Pentagon officials have contended for the last six years that they could account for the money if given enough time to track down the records. But repeated attempts to find the documentation, or better yet the cash, were fruitless.
June 19, 2011 update: US$6.6 of American money missing? Piece of change. Comes the news today from Baghdad that "Iraq's parliament is chasing about $17 billion of Iraqi oil money it says was stolen after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion." Making the story yet odder, "The missing money was shipped to Iraq from the United States to help with reconstruction after the ouster of Saddam Hussein." In other words, Americans allegedly stole this money from Iraqis. Some details:
In a letter to the U.N. office in Baghdad last month, parliament's Integrity Committee asked for help to find and recover the oil money taken from the Development Fund of Iraq (DFI) in 2004 and lost in the chaos that followed the invasion. "All indications are that the institutions of the United States of America committed financial corruption by stealing the money of the Iraqi people, which was allocated to develop Iraq, (and) that it was about $17 billion," said the letter sent to the U.N. with a 50-page report. The committee called the disappearance of the money a "financial crime" but said U.N. Security Council resolutions prevent Iraq from making a claim against the United States. "Our committee decided to send this issue to you ... to look into it and restore the stolen money," said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters. U.N. officials were not immediately available for comment.
Comment: I am trying to wrap my mind around the idea that money sent from the United States to Iraq to help with reconstruction of Iraq was money stolen from Iraqis, but given the strangeness of Iraqi finances, this should not surprise me.
July 30, 2011 update: The bad news keeps coming, now from a new report by Stuart W. Bowen Jr., who has run been the Congressionally-appointed Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction since the position was created in 2004. Michael S. Schmidt characterizes it in the New York Times as "a bleaker picture of the country's stability than assessments by diplomatic officials." He explains:
The report said that Iraqis had significantly increased their use of electricity over the past two years but that the supply had remained the same and significant power shortages continued. Investigators looking into corruption by the Iraqi government "remain stymied by political resistance and lack of capacity and have difficulty pursuing cases involving complex crimes and high-level officials," the report said.
Aug. 30, 2011 update: The magic number is now US$60 billion of waste over that past decade, including Afghanistan as well as Iraq, according to the Commission on Wartime Contracting's 240-page final report to Congress. That figure could still grow.
Oct. 25, 2011 update: Some interesting details on that missing amount from Eamon Javers at CNBC on the "NY Fed's $40 Billion Iraqi Money Trail":
Beginning in the very earliest days of the war in Iraq, the New York Federal Reserve shipped billions of dollars in physical cash to Baghdad to pay for the reopening of the government and restoration of basic services. The money was packed onto pallets inside a heavily guarded New York Federal Reserve compound in East Rutherford, New Jersey, trucked to Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, and flown by military aircraft to Baghdad International Airport.
By one account, the New York Fed shipped about $40 billion in cash between 2003 and 2008. In just the first two years, the shipments included more than 281 million individual bills weighing a total of 363 tons. But soon after the money arrived in the chaos of war-torn Baghdad, the paper trail documenting who controlled it all began to go cold.
Since then, investigators have spent years trying to trace what happened to the enormous amount of money shipped in the frantic days of the occupation of Iraq. Although there have been hundreds of pages of reports, Congressional hearings, and inquiries from Washington to Baghdad, no one in Congress, a special inspector general's office, the Department of Defense or the Iraqi government itself can say with certainty what exactly happened to all of that money.
Much of it may have been spent on the things it was intended for—but billions of dollars may have simply been stolen. The thefts likely ranged from complicated contracting schemes to brazen appropriations of billions in cash still in their New York Fed plastic wrappers.
Here is where things get interesting:
although the money was handled by a variety of trained American officials and military officers in the first legs of its trip halfway around the world, CNBC has learned that something unusual happened on the Baghdad side of the transaction: Each of the money flights to Baghdad was met at the airport in Iraq by the same man.
The previously unknown Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) official was tasked with picking up the bales of billions as they were unloaded from C-17s and arranging for them to get to the Central Bank of Iraq in downtown Baghdad. It was a perilous journey of about seven miles over a road the U.S. military called "Route Irish" through territory often controlled by insurgents. Travelers faced the threat of rocket propelled grenades, mortars, car bombs and IEDs.
Transit was so dangerous that returning American GI's often posted YouTube videos of their trips on Route Irish, just for the bragging rights of having been there.
The CPA official was a stocky, middle-aged naturalized American citizen of Lebanese descent who was born in Saudi Arabia. His first name is Basel. At his request, CNBC has agreed to withhold his last name from this story. Basel ferried cash in Baghdad for the CPA and the American embassy from 2003 until 2008—all told handling, he said, about $40 billion in cash.
His job made him the very last American to see that money before it disappeared into the vaults at the Central Bank of Iraq. And it may have made him the only person in the history of the world to oversee the movement of $40 billion in a combat zone.
Basel apparently got his portentous job by accident:
As a fluent speaker of multiple Arabic dialects, Basel had come to Iraq as a civilian with the American military. Both he and his former boss say Basel was sitting in a waiting area in Saddam Hussein's palace in early 2003, waiting for his first assignment. While he was waiting, a US Treasury official burst into the room, looking for a translator. "I have a situation here," the official said. Basel raised his hand to help.
Soon he found himself wrangling with a crew of Iraqi truck drivers who had been told to make a delivery to the Central Bank of Iraq. But the bank was closed for the night, and they did not understand the instructions their American overseers were trying to impart about where to store their trucks. Basel intervened, untangling the confusion. Impressed, the Treasury official, David Nummy, recruited Basel on the spot. Nummy said he soon put Basel in charge of meeting the cash flights from Washington at Baghdad airport, largely because he found Basel to be trustworthy.
Then there is the matter of the missing funds:
Basel said he didn't steal any of the Baghdad billions, but he knows who stole at least some of it. Asked whether he thinks any of the money he delivered was stolen or misappropriated, Basel said, "absolutely, without a doubt." But asked who stole it, he said, "I'm sure I have an idea, but I can't name names." That's because, he explained quietly, "I have a wife and family to worry about."
July 13, 2012 update: In the Final Forensic Audit Report of Iraq Reconstruction Funds, its last documentation of waste before going out of business at the end of 2012, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) pointed to a number of accounting flaws that put "billions of American taxpayer dollars at risk of waste and misappropriation," adding that "The precise amount lost to fraud and waste can never be known."
Feb. 13, 2013 update: The prolific and always-interesting Adam Kredo reports today at Washington Free Beacon on waste and fraud in Afghanistan that resembles the problems in Iraq, with the additional problem of U.S. taxpayer funds used to purchase banned Iranian oil. In theory, the almost $50 billion since 2005 went for training and security-related programs. In fact,
Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are being wasted in Afghanistan on fruitless reconstruction projects that are awash in corruption and have little government oversight, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). … The lack of oversight has potentially allowed the Afghan government to spend millions of U.S. dollars purchasing Iranian oil. Such expenditures would constitute a violation of economic sanctions, according to lead inspector John Sopko, who told Congress Wednesday that the Obama administration has failed to account for how funds are spent. The administration plans to increase spending in Afghanistan in the coming years as it reduces troop levels despite these concerns, a move that has sparked numerous concerns about security.
Sopko pointed out that the U.S. government "could be the biggest violator of the [Iranian] oil embargo" because "When we turned the money over to the Afghan government to buy the oil we have no real controls in place." He attributed the problem to "incompetency" and noted that a "lack of accountability increases the risk that U.S. funds and fuel will be stolen." Worse, SIGAR's ability to investigate will soon come to end. Sopko stated:
As our U.S. troops continue to withdraw, the amount of territory in Afghanistan that falls outside these security "bubbles" will increase. SIGAR's ability (as well as the ability of implementing agencies) to conduct on-site inspections, audits, and investigations may be hindered in the very near future by security restrictions. U.S. and coalition forces have already pulled out of a number of locations in Afghanistan, leaving some of those places too dangerous for SIGAR or other agencies to visit. We are at a critical juncture in Afghanistan. The success or failure of our entire 10 year engagement in Afghanistan is teetering" due to widespread corruption and a lack of accountability.
Jason Chaffetz (Republican of Utah) responded that "We are throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into what is the most corrupt government on the planet." Rep. John Mica (Republican of Florida) added that "The days of the U.S. financing this fiasco must be brought to a halt."
Mar. 6, 2013 update: Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction (SIGIR) has today issued a 171-page final report, Learning From Iraq, that provides an overview of U.S. government mistakes in attempting the country's reconstruction over the past decade. It also serves as a follow-up to SIGIR's previous comprehensive review, Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience. As the introduction explains:
This study provides much more than a recapitulation of what the reconstruction program accomplished and what my office found in the interstices. While examining both of these issues and many more, Learning From Iraq importantly captures the effects of the rebuilding program as derived from 44 interviews with the recipients (the Iraqi leadership), the executors (U.S. senior leaders), and the providers (congressional members). These interviews piece together an instructive picture of what was the largest stabilization and reconstruction operation ever undertaken by the United States (until recently overtaken by Afghanistan).
The cover of Learning from Iraq.
The body of this report reveals countless details about the use of more than $60 billion in taxpayer dollars to support programs and projects in Iraq. It articulates numerous lessons derived from SIGIR's 220 audits and 170 inspections, and it lists the varying consequences meted out from the 82 convictions achieved through our investigations. It urges and substantiates necessary reforms that could improve stabilization and reconstruction operations, and it highlights the financial benefits accomplished by SIGIR's work: more than $1.61 billion from audits and over $191 million from investigations.
Michael R. Gordon summarizes some of its conclusions in the New York Times:
The United States, officials from both countries say, took on too many large projects and often did not consult sufficiently with the Iraqis about which projects were needed and how best to go about them. As a result, the Iraqis were not always able to continue the projects as the American presence began to shrink, and the United States did not secure the good will it had hoped for.
Americans had their take:
William J. Burns, the deputy secretary of state, told the inspector general that the United States had overreached by planning to "do it all and do it our way," only to discover that the Americans quickly "wore out our welcome." Expanding on this theme, Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador in Iraq from 2007 to 2009, said that a major problem was the United States' failure to obtain "genuine" Iraqi support for major projects. Sometimes, Mr. Crocker said, the United States would receive a "head nod," a grudging Iraqi acquiescence to a project the United States wanted to undertake and which the Iraqis saw no reason to oppose since they were not paying for it. But as the United States began to reduce its footprint in Iraq, it discovered that there was little interest on the Iraqi side in carrying on the effort.
James F. Jeffrey, the American ambassador in Iraq from 2010 to 2012, said that the reconstruction efforts did some good by putting tens of thousands of Iraqis to work and improving health care. Projects, he said, were also directed at improving oil production and electricity generation and at building a new Iraqi military. Still, Mr. Jeffrey said, "too much money was spent with too few results."
And Iraqi officials had theirs, starting with the prime minister:
Mr. [Nuri al-]Maliki noted that one highly promoted project, the Basra Children's Hospital, ran far over budget and was still not finished. The inspector general report said that Mr. Maliki's observation was on target and that the project was more than 200 percent over budget and four years behind schedule.
Rafie al-Issawi, the former finance minister, a Sunni Muslim and a harsh critic of Mr. Maliki and his Shiite-dominated government, made a similar point. By starting such a large number of projects instead of focusing on a smaller number of worthy ones, he said, the United States made it harder for the Iraqis to complete them. American managers, Mr. Issawi said, operated as though they were "in a vacuum" and "were responsible for everything." This provided little opportunity for Iraqi input on the design and purpose of the project.
Deputy Prime Minister Hussein al-Shahristani said there were some successes, like the work on the Port of Umm Qasr. But in the main, he said, the reconstruction effort was well intentioned, but poorly prepared and inadequately supervised.
The special inspector general himself, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., estimates that at least $8 billion of the $60 billion, or 13 percent of the total, had been wasted.
June 19, 2013 update: Back over to Afghanistan, where we learn today that the U.S. military plans to destroy 20 percent of the materiel it brought to the war in that country – shredded, cut and crushed to be sold for scrap on the Afghan market – which amounts to 170 million pounds worth of equipment, worth some $7 billion, as it closes down its role there by the end of 2014. The Pentagon says of this massive supply that it is no longer needed or would be too costly to ship. Maj. Gen. Kurt J. Stein, head of the 1st Sustainment Command, who is in charge of the drawdown from Afghanistan, proudly calls it "the largest retrograde mission in history."
July 30, 2013 update: Staying in Afghanistan, where the U.S. taxpayer has dropped $934.4 million since 2002 to assist with education: Nathan Hodge and Habib Khan Totakhil tell the story today in the Wall Street Journal of Islamists at Nangarhar University in Jalalabad, the country's second largest university.
Nangarhar University is a symbol of American largess: U.S. taxpayers foot the bill for dormitories, classrooms and computer labs. Increasingly dominating the campus of Afghanistan's second largest university, however, are Islamist activists who openly sympathize with the Taliban. …
This rise of extremism among Afghan students—some of the biggest direct beneficiaries of U.S. assistance—underscores the lack of goodwill that more than a decade of American taxpayer money has bought here. …
Naeem Jan Sarwary, vice chancellor for student affairs, said the university depended heavily on USAID as well as the local Provincial Reconstruction Team, a U.S. military-led development team, to provide Internet servers, computer laboratories, sports equipment and scholarship money. International donors helped provide housing for the school's 500 female students.
Jan. 30, 2014 update: The Washington Post headline reads "After billions in U.S. investment, Afghan roads are falling apart"; the rest is details:
They look like victims of an insurgent attack — their limbs in need of amputation, their skulls cracked — but the patients who pour daily into the Ghazni Provincial Hospital are casualties of another Afghan crisis. They are motorists who drove on the road network built by the U.S. government and other Western donors — a $4 billion project that was once a symbol of promise in post-Taliban Afghanistan but is now falling apart.
Western officials say the Afghan government is unable to maintain even a fraction of the roads and highways constructed since 2001, when the country had less than 50 miles of paved roads. The deterioration has hurt commerce and slowed military operations. In many places, the roads once deemed the hallmark of America's development effort have turned into death traps, full of cars careening into massive bomb-blast craters or sliding off crumbling pavement.
"There's been nothing. No maintenance," said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue publicly. … Some of the roughly 10,000 miles of roads and highways built by Western donors have been worn away by overuse. Others are shredded by hundreds of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) laid by insurgents. Not long ago, U.S. troops and contractors repaired them, but those resources are now gone.
Here's the kicker:
Despite those concerns, the U.S. government is still building new roads in Afghanistan, multimillion-dollar projects whose funds were allocated years ago. … Many officials worry that the U.S.-funded roads still under construction will fall into disrepair after they're completed. One 60-mile road in eastern Afghanistan, between Khost and Paktia provinces, has cost almost $5 million per mile, largely because of the cost of providing security for construction workers. The last 15 miles are slated to be completed this year.
Vehicles navigate Afghanistan's Highway One between Kabul and Kandahar, where it is damaged by a roadside bomb, in Sayed Abad.