US$5b ‘wasted in Iraq’
KHAN BANI SAAD, Iraq – A US$40 million prison sits in the desert north of Baghdad, empty. A US$165 million children’s hospital goes unused in the south. A US$100 million waste water treatment system in Fallujah has cost three times more than projected, yet sewage still runs through the streets.
As the United States draws down in Iraq, it is leaving behind hundreds of abandoned or incomplete projects. More than US$5 billionin American taxpayer funds has been wasted on these projects – more than ten per cent of the US$53.7 billion the United States has spent on reconstruction in Iraq, according to audits from a United States watchdog agency.
That amount is likely an underestimate, based on an analysis of more than 300 reports by auditors with the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. And it does not take into account security costs, which have run almost 17 per cent for some projects.
There are success stories. Hundreds of police stations, border forts and government buildings have been built, Iraqi security forces have improved after years of training, and a deepwater port at the southern oil hub of Umm Qasr has been restored.
But even completed projects for the most part fell far short of original goals, according to an Associated Press review of hundreds of audits and investigations and visits to several sites. And the verdict is still out on whether the programme reached its goal of generating Iraqi goodwill toward the United States instead of the insurgents.
Colonel Jon Christensen, who took over as head of the United States Army Corps of Engineers in Iraq this summer, said it has completed more than 4 800 projects and is rushing to finish 233 more. Some 595 projects have been terminated, mostly for security reasons.
Christensen acknowledged that mistakes had been made. But he said steps had been taken to fix them, and the success of the programme would depend ultimately on the Iraqis who had complained that they were not consulted on projects to start with.
“There’s only so much we could do,” Christensen said. “A lot of it comes down to them taking ownership of it.”
The reconstruction programme in Iraq has been troubled since its birth shortly after the United States-led invasion in 2003. The United States was forced to scale back many projects even as they spiked in cost, sometimes to more than double or triple initial projections. (AP)