Are Iraqi troops facing an attack of rotten tomatoes?
The Iraqi government is investigating Western contractors who provide food to the Iraqi military. Contracts are worth millions of dollars. But according to a report broadcast on National Public Radio, some of the money isn’t making it to the table. What is making it to the table, at least at one base, is barely edible rice and rotten tomatoes.
In a segment of American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” reporter Ben Gilbert said Iraq’s Ministry of Defense shells out $12 a day for food, trash pick-up and laundry services.
But in fact, the troops have only been getting $4 worth. Gilbert cites the inspector general at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense as saying that bad food, contractor waste and corruption are widespread.
The NPR report described the late-afternoon scene at an Iraqi Army patrol base just north of Ramadi: The soldiers are ready for lunch. They eat a Spartan meal of rice and red sauce three times a day.
Haddi Said, a 26-year-old private from Basra, is not happy. “The Iraqi soldiers need good food to fight the insurgents. This is not enough for me!” he says.
When Said says it’s not enough, he’s not talking about the quantity of the food, but rather its poor quality, Gilbert reported. The Iraqis’ American trainers don’t like it either.
Capt. David Brouillette has lived with this unit for nearly a year. He says the food is barely fit for human consumption.
“I know the first week I was here, I ate strictly Iraqi food. I lost 10 pounds. It’s a great weight-loss plan, but I wouldn’t advise it,” Brouillette says.
Brouillette looks over at the latest food delivery. It consists of a bag of rice, some flat bread, and a crate of rotten, pulverized tomatoes.
“It’s gotten worse. It wasn’t like this all the time,” he says.
In this 150-man unit based in Ramadi, the strain of poor conditions and bad food is showing, the NPR report says. Brouillette is quoted as saying half the soldiers from this unit have left. Even those who stayed say they may not stick around forever if conditions don’t change.
>Brouillette tells Gilbert: “You can only go so long. If I fed you rotted food, how long would you stay at a job? And shot at you?”
One Iraqi soldier in the unit, 21-year-old Private Kassam Mehdi, from Hilla, says the contractor is the problem.
“The contractor is a bad guy,” Mehdi tells Gilbert. “The contracting company stole the money the Ministry of Defense allocated for food to feed the soldiers.”
The inspector general, Faisal Mohammed Bakr Mehdi, told Gilbert he has opened his own investigation into the corruption at the Ministry of Defense, specifically the office of logistics. It’s here that contracts for food and trash pick-up would have been written and approved.
Gilbert reports that the U.S. military confirmed the food contractors are being investigated but won’t provide details on which contractors, nor on how much money is missing, while the investigation is ongoing. But, according to the report, if the Iraq soldiers only received services worth $4 per day out of $12 paid for, then the total amount of missing or misspent money could amount to more than $300 million.
Mehdi, the inspector general, is evasive about who exactly he is investigating. But he says the solution to the contractor corruption is to increase oversight and decentralize the process. He says the money saved could be used to increase soldiers’ pay and, ultimately, their morale.