Report Details Crumbling Iraq Reconstruction 'Successes'

May 2, 2007

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Problems with maintenance and other aspects of sustaining Iraq reconstruction projects threaten the future usefulness of some U.S.-built facilities, according to a new report. Poor construction, improper design, substandard materials and lack of maintenance have caused the failure of seven of eight such reconstruction projects recently reviewed by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

In a series of reports to Congress detailing eight major projects, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found that new equipment and facilities turned over to local authorities suffered from misuse and neglect. The evaluations of eight facilities that were rehabilitated or built as part of U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq revealed problems with maintenance that suggest some such projects may not function as long or as well as planned.

The United States government oversight agency released the 232-page quarterly review earlier this week, presenting a sobering picture of the challenges of reconstruction in a war zone. Projects hailed as successes were found to be falling apart, and security fears have contributed to neglected maintenance.

The inspector general's report lays out how even successful endeavors — for example, the completion of more than 800 school projects and training for thousands of teachers — haven't realized their potential because of security risks. During four years of insurgency and sectarian fighting, less than a third of Iraq's 3.5 million students attended class, according to the report, which cited Iraqi Education Ministry statistics.

The agency looked at eight projects that had been declared successes across Iraq, with a total cost of about $150 million. Of the eight projects — some only six months before the inspection took place — seven are now no longer working properly, reports The New York Times.

The latest report alludes to blame pinned not on the insurgents but mainly on poor maintenance. Part of the responsibility lay with the Iraqis and part with the U.S. for failing to include funding for maintenance, such as training, spare parts, stronger construction and other elements that would enable projects to continue functioning once they have been built, according to UK's The Guardian. ("The reconstruction effort was originally designed as nearly equal to the military push to stabilize Iraq, allow the government to function and business to flourish, and promote good will toward the U.S.," notes NYT.)

The inspectors found serious plumbing and electrical failures, looting and expensive equipment lying idle, either because staff did not know how to use it or those that did were no longer employed. Inspections ranged geographically from northern to southern Iraq and covered projects as varied as a maternity hospital, barracks for an Iraqi special forces unit and a power station for Baghdad International Airport.

The inspectors expressed concern at the speed of deterioration and questioned whether the projects would survive. NYT reports:

• At the Baghdad international airport, critical for maintaining U.S. presence in the country, inspectors found that while $11.8 million had been spent on new electrical generators, $8.6 million worth were no longer functioning.

• At a maternity hospital, a rehabilitation project in the northern city of Erbil, an expensive incinerator for medical waste was padlocked — Iraqis at the hospital could not find the key when inspectors asked to see the equipment — and partly as a result, medical waste including syringes, used bandages and empty drug vials were clogging the sewage system and probably contaminating the water system. The newly built water purification system was not functioning either, smacking the credibility of a 2006 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers news release, titled "Erbil Maternity and Pediatric Hospital — not just bricks and mortar!" which praised both the new water purification system and the incinerator that would "keep medical waste from entering into the solid waste and water systems."

• Numerous problems were found on a visit to a $5.2 million special forces barracks in Baghdad, completed by the Army Corps in September 2005. The problems related to faulty plumbing throughout the buildings. Four large electrical generators, each costing $50,000, were no longer operating.

• Besides the airport, hospital and special forces barracks, places where inspectors found serious problems included two projects at a military base near Nasiriya and one at a military recruiting center in Hilla — both cities in the south — and a police station in Mosul, a northern city. A second police station in Mosul was found to be in good condition.

Officials at the oversight agency said they had made an effort to sample different regions and various types of projects, but that they were constrained from taking a true random sample in part because many projects were in areas too unsafe to visit. So, they said, the initial set of eight projects — which cost a total of about $150 million — "cannot be seen as a true statistical measure of the thousands of projects in the roughly $30 billion American rebuilding program," NYT notes.

Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general, expects his office to conduct similar reviews at 20 more reconstruction projects, reports The Washington Post.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, charged with monitoring projects for fraud, waste and abuse of funds, released its quarterly report on Monday summarizing the inspections and gave an update on such sectors as oil and electricity. Congress set up the agency to monitor reconstruction projects after reports of wide-scale waste of funds.

Thus far, most of the quarterly updates on progress since the office was set up in January 2004 have been, quite frankly, scathing.

The U.S. has spent billions of dollars on Iraqi reconstruction, but the effort has been beset with innumerable problems. In addition, 914 people — including 224 U.S. citizens — have died while working on the U.S.-funded projects, according to the Inspector General report.

Sources

SIGIR Inspections Division

NYT

Guardian

Washington Post

Earlier

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Engineers Race Heat to Rebuild Iraqi Power Grid

Engineering Iraq's Reconstruction

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