Progress, Problems in Iraq's Reconstruction Effort

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Iraqis walk through a bomb-destroyed area in Baquba, Nov. 2.

Iraqis walk through a bomb-destroyed area in Baquba, Nov. 2. Reuters hide caption

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Steve Inskeep talks with Stuart Bowen, special inspector general of Iraq reconstruction, about how relief and reconstruction projects are going in the battered country. Bowen is reporting progress, though billions of dollars have been diverted from reconstruction to security.


Soldiers in Iraq say a key part of their job is winning over the Iraqi public. That means rebuilding the country, partly with billions of American dollars. Reconstruction is the next place we'll look to measure progress in the war.


Stuart Bowen is supposed to find out if the money is well-spent. He's the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. And in recent months, he found widespread problems. Today, Bowen is reporting progress, although billions of dollars have been diverted from reconstruction to security.

Mr. STUART BOWEN (Special Inspector General): Well, we've called it the reconstruction gap. There were 3,200, roughly, projects that were initially planned. We started almost 2,800. A lot of those projects that have been scaled back have been planned; they just haven't been built. Funding is the key, of course. And where will that funding come from? It'll come from Iraqi oil revenues, other donor nations, substantial pledges still yet to be met, and the World Bank.

INSKEEP: Is life on the street any better than it was six months ago, a year ago, in a way that would be attributable to all this reconstruction money?

Mr. BOWEN: It is hard for me to judge that because of the security that is required to travel across the country. But what I can say is that construction has moved very fast this year.

INSKEEP: Can you just describe a couple of specific projects that have been finished this year that just didn't get done last year?

Mr. BOWEN: Sure. There were five substations that we visited this summer in Basra.

INSKEEP: Electricity?

Mr. BOWEN: Electricity substations built by an American-designed build contractor. Completed projects. We went down and found them to be very well constructed. The workmanship was high quality and they're state of the art. But there was a problem. There were no connector wires going out from the stations to carry that electricity to those who need it.

INSKEEP: Did somebody forget the need for wiring an electrical system until you pointed that out?

Mr. BOWEN: It wasn't part of the contract. So it wasn't forgotten. It simply wasn't part of the scope.

INSKEEP: Last time you spoke to us, you indicated that there were instances in which there were millions of dollars that had been spent and it was hard to see how it had been spent.

Mr. BOWEN: Our latest report has two more audits from the activities of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Hillah.

INSKEEP: That's south central Iraq?

Mr. BOWEN: That's right. South central Iraq. And we found more problems. We looked at the Karbala library and we looked at the Babylon Police Academy, and in both cases there were grant moneys and contract dollars that simply disappeared. There was 50,000 allocated to provide books to the Karbala library. It has no books. A million dollars was allocated in a grant for the training of librarians. When we went and interviewed the staff at the library, they'd never heard of that. At the police academy, what was promised and what was delivered--there's a huge chasm between the two. And we have investigations going on related to those audits.

INSKEEP: In strategic terms, has the reconstruction been good enough--whatever problems there may be, has it been good enough to serve its strategic function of stabilizing and pacifying this country or at least helping to do that?

Mr. BOWEN: I'm not sure I'm willing to tie the two together. I think it's part of promoting a stable and democratic Iraq, and the better job that we can do and the faster that we can do it to complete these important projects in the oil, water and electricity sectors, the better we can promote a prosperous Iraq. And a prosperous Iraq will ultimately be a peaceful Iraq.

INSKEEP: Well, is the reconstruction proceeding well enough to promote that?

Mr. BOWEN: Well, the insurgency continues, but I'm not willing to draw a cause and effect analysis between how we're doing on the reconstruction front and the level of insurgency.

INSKEEP: Stuart Bowen is the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

Thanks very much.

Mr. BOWEN: Thank you, Steve.


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