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Another report faults Iraq blunders

Draft of inspector general project says U.S. continually overstated progress

By JOSEPH GIORDONO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 16, 2008

A government history of the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq details the series of blunders, failures and corruption scandals — along with a roiling insurgency — that have hampered an effort that has so far cost more than $50 billion in taxpayer funds.

The report, titled "Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience," compiles for the first time much of the information discovered in audits and investigations by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Construction.

Still stamped "DRAFT," the report was scheduled to be released in February. But it was posted over the weekend in a joint effort by The New York Times and the nonprofit investigative journalism organization ProPublica.

The report alleges that when reconstruction efforts began to bog down, the Pentagon put out falsified numbers.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is cited in the 513-page report as saying that, after the invasion, the Pentagon "kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces — the number would jump 20,000 a week!"

The comments were from an interview of Powell by Stuart Bowen, head of the special inspector general office. Similar accusations were made in a book by retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was an early overall commander of ground troops in Iraq.

The report’s authors pose a question of whether the reconstruction program met its own goals. "Generally no," is their answer in regard to infrastructure efforts. "Generally yes" is their answer on rebuilding Iraq’s security forces.

Bowen also asks: "Why did reconstruction efforts so often fail to meet their mark?" The one word answer is "security."

Bowen notes that the U.S. civilian administration that President George W. Bush installed in Baghdad, led by L. Paul Bremer, stated in July 2003 that "our first priority is to create a secure and safe environment, without which there can be little progress on other goals."

Bowen concludes that the lack of a secure environment hurt not only reconstruction but also the ability to develop Iraqi police and military forces.

Compounding the problem, Bremer states, was a U.S. tendency to overstate progress in training Iraqi forces.

Lawrence Di Rita, a senior aide to then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the outset of the war, said Sunday that from his reading of the draft version posted on the Web on Sunday it appears that Bowen failed to adequately take account of the fact that Bush’s initial plan called for a rapid handover of authority to an interim Iraqi governing body — not for a prolonged American military occupation.

"Planning was based around that," Di Rita said in an e-mail note. "When we deviated from that after (Bremer’s office) got up to speed, we invited years of spending and detailed involvement in every aspect of the Iraq government. That was not the original concept."

A request for comment on the report sent by Stars and Stripes to officials with the Army Corps of Engineers’ Gulf Region Division — the entity responsible for much of the reconstruction — was not answered on Tuesday.

Gulf Region Division officials have said they’ve completed 4,000 projects valued at $6.9 billion, and currently have another 400 projects totaling $2.6 billion under way.

The U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq has been called the largest undertaking of its kind since the Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II.

In the "conclusions" section of the report, Bowen added a quotation from Charles Dickens’ "Great Expectations."

"We spent as much money as we could, and got as little for it as people could make up their minds to give us," it reads.

Some of the problems cited in the report include a lack of oversight and central control in both Washington and Baghdad; nonmilitary staffing was inadequate both in expertise and numbers; and the costs of many major projects were over budget by more than 50 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


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