Posted by: Lister | April 30, 2007

Cowboys and Iraqis

Inspectors Find Rebuilt Projects Crumbling in Iraq

In a troubling sign for the American-financed rebuilding program in Iraq, inspectors for a federal oversight agency have found that in a sampling of eight projects that the United States had declared successes, seven were no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle.

7 out of 8. And they couldn’t go to the really dangerous places, so that’s not representative. How much of the oil industry reconstruction is still working? I wonder.

The United States has previously admitted, sometimes under pressure from federal inspectors, that some of its reconstruction projects have been abandoned, delayed or poorly constructed. But this is the first time inspectors have found that projects officially declared a success — in some cases, as little as six months before the latest inspections — were no longer working properly.

The 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.

At the airport, crucially important for the functioning of the country, inspectors found that while $11.8 million had been spent on new electrical generators, $8.6 million worth were no longer functioning.

[…] Officials at the oversight agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, 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.

[…] 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 United States.

“These first inspections indicate that the concerns that we and others have had about the Iraqis sustaining our investments in these projects are valid,” Stuart W. Bowen Jr., who leads the office of the special inspector general, said in an interview on Friday.

[…] Exactly who is to blame for the poor record on sustainment for the first sample of eight projects was not laid out in the report, but the American reconstruction program has been repeatedly criticized for not including in its rebuilding budget enough of the costs for spare parts, training, stronger construction and other elements that would enable projects continue to function once they have been built.

[…] The Iraqis themselves appear to share responsibility for the latest problems, which cropped up after the United States turned the projects over to the Iraqi government. Still, the new findings show that the enormous American investment in the reconstruction program is at risk, Mr. Bowen said.

Curiously, most of the problems seemed unrelated to sabotage stemming from Iraq’s parlous security situation, but instead were the product of poor initial construction, petty looting, a lack of any maintenance and simple neglect.

A case in point was the $5.2 million project undertaken by the United States Army Corps of Engineers to build the special forces barracks in Baghdad. The project was completed in September 2005, but by the time inspectors visited last month, there were numerous problems caused by faulty plumbing throughout the buildings, and four large electrical generators, each costing $50,000, were no longer operating.

The problems with the generators were seemingly minor: missing batteries, a failure to maintain adequate oil levels in the engines, fuel lines that had been pilfered or broken.

[…] Brig. Gen. Michael Walsh, commander of the Gulf Region Division of the Army Corps, told a news conference in Baghdad late last month that with so much coverage of violence in Iraq “what you don’t see are the successes in the reconstruction program, how reconstruction is making a difference in the lives of everyday Iraqi people.”

And those declared successes are heavily promoted by the United States government. A 2006 news release by the Army Corps, titled “Erbil Maternity and Pediatric Hospital — not just bricks and mortar!” praises both the new water purification system and the incinerator. The incinerator, the release said, would “keep medical waste from entering into the solid waste and water systems.”

But when Mr. Bowen’s office presented the Army Corps with the finding that neither system was working at the struggling hospital and recommended a training program so that Iraqis could properly operate the equipment, General Walsh tersely disagreed with the recommendation in a letter appended to the report, which also noted that the building had suffered damage because workers used excess amounts of water to clean the floors.

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