As the 10th anniversary of President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq approaches, the body charged with overseeing Iraq’s reconstruction has issued its final report, capping a tale of spending far too much money for very little results.
Appointed in Oct. 2004, over a year into War in Iraq, the Special Inspector-General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) was charged with being a watchdog over the use of funds provided for rebuilding the Iraqi state after the downfall of Saddam Hussein. Those reconstruction and stabilization efforts wound up costing nearly $60 billion — or about $15 million per day — with up to $10 billion of that amount wasted, according to SIGIR Stuart Bowen.
The examples provided of fraud and abuse of the system are staggering both in number and nature. Among the most telling boondoggles is an $108 million waste-water treatment facility in Fallujah, Iraq that will be completed eight years over schedule. Once finished in 2014, it will only service 9,000 homes and require an additional $87 million from Iraq to provide service to the rest of the buildings in the city.
In terms of outright abuse, Iraqis and Americans alike were culprits, with one former Iraqi Defense Minister’s squandering $1.3 billion. Earmarked to provide for an Iraqi “quick reaction force,” the money was instead spent on various bribes, kickbacks, and purchasing useless equipment. Likewise, former U.S. Army Major John Cockerham was sentenced to 17.5 years in prison for siphoning off millions of dollars from reconstruction projects by accepting bribes from various contractors.
The majority of Bowen’s lessons learned provided to Congress deal extensively with the completely unprepared way in which the United States chose to rebuild Iraq. Bowen gives seven ways to better perform rebuilding operations in the future:
1. Create an integrated civilian-military ofﬁce to plan, execute, and be accountable for contingency rebuilding activities during stabilization and reconstruction operations.
2. Begin rebuilding only after establishing sufﬁcient security, and focus ﬁrst on small programs and projects.
3. Ensure full host-country engagement in program and project selection, securing commitments to share costs (possibly through loans) and agreements to sustain completed projects after their transfer.
4. Establish uniform contracting, personnel, and information management systems that all SRO participants use.
5. Require robust oversight of SRO activities from the operation’s inception.
6. Preserve and reﬁne programs developed in Iraq, like the Commander’s Emergency Response Program and the Provincial Reconstruction Team program, that produced successes when used judiciously.
7. Plan in advance, plan comprehensively and in an integrated fashion, and have backup plans ready to go.
Many of those suggestions belie the cavalier attitude struck by Republicans at the beginning of the war in 2003, despite a near complete lack of planning by the Bush administration to provide for rebuilding Iraq. “Each day it gets better,” then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in May 2003 of the reconstruction efforts. Rumsfeld also insisted that “the bulk of the funds for Iraq’s reconstruction will come from Iraqis” in October of that year. $60 billion later, Iraq has proved to be nowhere near the “cakewalk” predicted by George W. Bush adviser Kenneth Adelman predicted in 2002.