What the New York Times/APreport calls a "grim picture" is emerging from the latest quarterly audit of money spent for relief and reconstruction in Iraq.
Major U.S. companies with multimillion-dollar contracts for Iraq reconstruction are being forced to devote 12.5 percent of their expenses for security due to spiraling violence in the region, investigators said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, tens of millions of U.S. dollars have been wasted elsewhere in Iraq reconstruction aid, some of it on an Olympic-size swimming pool ordered up by Iraqi officials for a police academy that has yet to be used.
The quarterly audit by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, is the latest to paint a grim picture of waste, fraud and frustration in an Iraq war and reconstruction effort that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $300 billion and left the region near civil war.
The amount lost to fraud and corruption is bad enough. But what had to be paid out for security is what leaps out from the latest report. It doesn't bode well for the future of relief work in Iraq.
''The security situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, hindering progress in all reconstruction sectors and threatening the overall reconstruction effort,'' according to the 579-page report.
Calling Iraq's sectarian violence the greatest challenge, Bowen said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that billions in U.S. aid spent on strengthening security has had limited effect. He said reconstruction now will fall largely on Iraqis to manage -- and they're nowhere ready for the task.
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, said Wednesday that the report shows the uphill battle for the United States and the international community in their efforts to bring stability in Iraq.
Apart from the security costs, however, is the money lost to fraud. An example:
The State Department paid $43.8 million to contractor DynCorp International for the residential camp for police training personnel outside of Baghdad's Adnan Palace grounds that has stood empty for months. About $4.2 million of the money was improperly spent on 20 VIP trailers and an Olympic-size pool, all ordered by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior but never authorized by the U.S.
U.S. officials spent another $36.4 million for weapons such as armored vehicles, body armor and communications equipment that can't be accounted for. DynCorp also may have prematurely billed $18 million in other potentially unjustified costs, the report said.
Note: Since starting this post, the New York Times has edited/revised its AP-source article and has removed further examples before this posting.
Stuart Bowen was interviewed today on NPR's "Fresh Air." As "Fresh Air" notes in its introduction to the discussion:
Next week Bowen will appear before a House Committee beginning hearings into waste and fraud in reconstruction. Formerly, Bowen served in the White House under George W. Bush, and was a partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm of Patton Boggs LLP. Bowen's ties to Bush go back to the early 1990s, when he worked in the Texas Governor's office. Bowen was also an intelligence officer in the U.S. Air Force, where he achieved the rank of Captain.
Fresh Air: As Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen's office has been uncovering waste, fraud, and corruption. His office audits how private contracts in Iraq are using money from America's Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF). Bowen has just released his 12th quarterly report. IRRF initial $21billion budget is all under contract and the funds-phase of reconstruction is coming to an end. But as part of President Bush's plan to stabilize Iraq, he is asking Congress to approve $1.2 billion in new reconstruction aid. We asked Bowen to talk with us about his latest findings.... Stuart Bowen... what would you say the headline of the new report is?
Stuart Bowen: The headline of this, our 12th quarterly report, is the end of the IRRF and the beginning of the next phase. The IRRF, as it's called, was appropriated by Congress in 2003 for the recovery of postwar Iraq. Amounting to $21 billion, it is now all under contract and over 80% is spent.
FA: So what does that mean? Why is that the headline?
SB: What that means is the largely US-supported phase of the recovery of Iraq is coming to a close. The next phase must include a larger multilateral component. Ultimately, it must transition rapidly to Iraq control and Iraqi funding.
FA: So our money is basically spent on reconstruction projects.
SB: That's right. The money that Congress appropriated for this program is basically spent.
FA: Now the ambassador from Iran to Baghdad recently said that Iran is prepared to offer Iraq training for its security forces as well as equipment and advisers. Iran is also ready to help with reconstruction. What can you tell us about the role that Iran plans to play in Iraq's reconstruction now that American money is coming to and end?
SB: We don't -- obviously -- have a role in reviewing issues like that. But what I can say is that support for Iraq must be multilateralized. An international compact for Iraq, which includes the Gulf states, the EU, and other nations will, we expect, realize the hope of Madrid. In 2003 known US pledges amounted to over $13 billion, but just over 3 have come in to date. That must change this year for Iraq to move into the next phase of its recovery.
FA: I don't it's not in your position to decide what's paradoxical, but do you find it a little paradoxical that as the US's relationship with Iran continues to deterioriate, Iran seems to be forging an alliance with Iraq.
Kenneth Pollack had some interesting things to say today about Iraq and a potential -- even imminent -- wildfire in the Middle East. What follows is an excerpt from the discussion at "On Point," a discussion which included (earlier) Noam Levey of the LA Times and (later) Barry Posen of MIT.
On Point: ... On Monday, [Kenneth Pollack] released a report with Dan Byman, "Things Fall Apart: Containing the Spillover from an Iraqi Civil War."...How close are we to this all-out civil war which would threaten regional spillover, in your view?
Kenneth Pollack: The problem with these kinds of wars is that when you look at them historically it's always difficult to tell. Civil war tends to come up on you very quickly. Typically there is some event which no one could have predicted the day before that simply triggers a psychological dynamic and propels you very quickly into the throes of civil war. What we've seen in Iraq is a low-level civil war that's been going on for a year and a half or so. You've seen a number of events, most notably the bombing of the Mosque of the Golden Dome in Samarra last February that could easily have been that kind of a psychological trigger. So when Dan and I looked at Iraq and we compared that to about a dozen other recent civil wars, we basically said the trajectory is a very bad one and we are so far along it that pretty much any event could trigger that kind of rapid descent.
OP: You're waving the red flag very hard here! You write: "The US effort to bring peace and stability to Iraq has failed... Iraq is rapidly descending into an all-out civil war." If that goes to spillover, what does that spillover potentially look like?
KP: Well, spillover from Iraq could be very bad. Again, we looked at about a dozen different instances of civil wars in the past thirty years and how they affected neighboring states. What we found is that spillover is a constant in civil wars. The intensity can vary. In some cases it's merely unpleasant and annoying. But in other cases it can become truly catastrophic. In other cases, civil war in one country can cause civil war in another country. Civil war in one country can devolve into a regional war. And unfortunately when we looked at Iraq, we found that Iraq has all the hallmarks of a state that will tend toward the worse end of the spectrum. Of course, we're pretty much seeing signs of every aspect of spillover that we identified in these historical cases. We're already seeing them in Iraq to a greater or lesser extent.
OP: So you're not talking spillover that means reaching for a paper towel. You're talking catastrophic as a real possibility but potentially imminent. ...Give us some of the bullet point ingredients of what that could look like.
KP: We identified six basic patterns that come from spillover. They're things like refugees. Refugees are not only a humanitarian catastrophe but they also are a strategic problem. We need to think about refugees as being large numbers of very unhappy people. They are a prime recruiting pool for militia groups and terrorists. As a result the refugee population -- the refugee camps -- can then become staging grounds for new attacks back into the country. They provoke attacks on the refugee camps. They can then provoke attacks on the countries harboring those refugees.
OP: And that would just be the beginning of your list. You've got terrorism, a new sort of Afghanistan base for terrorism. Radicalization of neighboring populations. Secession breeding secessionism. Countries breaking up. Economic losses not even to mention oil. And then neighborly intervention (doesn't sound so neighborly!) Do you really see armies on the march, potentially?
KP: Potentially you can. Again, it's something fairly common to these kinds of civil wars. Typically what happens -- you're already starting to see it in Iraq -- is that different neighboring countries see the country in question as coming apart and they start to intervene clandestinely, covertly, supporting different proxy groups in the country, to use those proxy groups to try to secure their interests. But frequently the proxy groups don't do what they're told or they're not up to the task. Or simply one group starts to win. And when any of that happens, the neighboring countries begin to think about using their own armed forces to solve the problem themselves. That's what you saw in Lebanon with Israel and the Syrians. It's something you saw in Congo with seven different nations intervening there.
OP: You speak coolly, but you're describing something potentially catastrophic here. You've got a baker's dozen steps you'd suggest that make this happen. But I have to ask you: you wrote the book, "Threatening Storm: The case for invading Iraq," before this war. I.e., you helped get us in there! We're going to, but why should we listen to you now?!
KP: It's a heckuva question! First point I'd make is that while I did argue very strongly for a war in Iraq, I didn't argue for this one! There were a lot of points I made in "Threatening Storm" which the administration ignored -- points about when we should go to war and all the many steps we ought to take before we went to war. I was very concerned about this war and said very clearly that we could be opening up a Pandora's box in Iraq if we didn't do the right thing in terms of diplomacy. In particular, I write an entire chapter where I talked about the importance of post-war reconstruction and the importance of doing it right. And unfortunately almost everything that I argued for in that chapter the Bush administration failed to take into account, failed to act on.
Does Bush's decision to double the strategic oil reserve reflect a decision that, come hell or high water, we're going into Iran?
Lisa Margonelli has an interesting piece about the strategic oil reserve in the New York Times. She writes:
My sense is that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is more important as a psychological aid (like the stashes of food survivalists keep in case of catastrophe) than as a practical solution to energy security. In many ways, it is a relic of cold-war thinking that lives on even though the very idea of energy security has changed. We now import about a million barrels of oil a day in the form of goods from China. That is, China imports the oil, uses it to make products, and we depend upon those products. The reserve can do little to protect us in this more complicated modern world. If we double the size of the reserve, we will be paying $65 billion for more of the same psychological reassurance, and little else.
But that psychological reassurance -- read undisturbed gas prices -- might turn out to be what's needed when it's necessary to contain criticism (panic?) if an "incident" takes our out-of-control executive into Iran.
A reaction to Tom Tancredo's criticism of the Black Caucus. And redesigning playgrounds.
I'll be listening to "On Point" where the discussion will be: "Civil war fighting in Iraq could spread across the Middle East. We'll look at America's options for stopping or containing it."
And to Warren Olney: "Members of both parties in both houses of Congress oppose the President's increase of troops in Iraq. What can they do? ...Vice President Cheney has challenged them to assume the political risk of cutting off money. What other powers are granted by the Constitution? What will presidential politics have to do with it?"