Report Cites Problems with Iraq Rebuilding Costs

A report from the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction says Iraqis are doing a poor job maintaining buildings and equipment paid for with U.S. money. The report offers a snapshot on how more than $20 billion of U.S. taxpayer funds are being spent.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

There's a new report out today on the reconstruction of Iraq and the assessment is not good. The special inspector for Iraq reconstruction found that seven out of eight large-scale projects it investigated were poorly built and poorly maintained. This report says Iraqis haven't been able to overcome problems with security, or with corruption, or with incompetence.

NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been following this story. And Tom, what kind of projects are we talking about here, and what's wrong?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, this is really a snapshot of a lot of the projects in Iraq. Seven out of eight that Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general, looked at. And they include military barracks in Tallil where four buildings had to be dismantled because of poor construction, a pediatric hospital in Irbil where sewage was backing up through the floor, and a Baghdad airport where equipment wasn't being used correctly and wasn't being maintained. And they found that the only project working as planned was a police station in Mosul.

INSKEEP: Well, what do all those details say about the overall reconstruction effort in Iraq?

BOWMAN: Well, one thing it says is that the Iraqis are having a hard time maintaining the projects paid for with the American taxpayer money. The total amount of money paid for by the Americans for these projects around the country was $21 billion. And the real problem is the Iraqis don't have the training or the expertise to maintain a lot of these projects, so Stuart Bowen says it's going to be a problem well into the future.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Tom Bowman, who spent a lot of time in Iraq himself. And Tom, while I have you on the line, I want to ask you about something else. This past week, General David Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq, was in Washington. He did a lot of talking about the Anbar province, whish is the center of Sunni insurgency in Iraq, as you know.

And just over the weekend The New York Times had a report out of Anbar that suggested that things were improving dramatically there in a fragile way. What did you see in your last trip in Anbar province?

BOWMAN: Well, we did this story back in February, and what's going on there is the sheikhs, the tribal leaders, are starting to work with the American troops out there. And the sheikhs and their tribal members were really caught in the crossfire between al-Qaida and the Americans. And also, interestingly, al-Qaida was muscling into the sheikhs' oil smuggling operations.

So the sheikhs started working with the Americans, they told their people, for example, to join the police force. And there's an Army colonel out there, Colonel Sean McFarlane, who has since left, who really pushed this plan. He moved his soldiers from the Ramadi base, a well-fortified base, out into small outposts into the city, and the sheikhs started working with the Americans in these outposts.

And in Ramadi, for example, there are several hundred Sunni police last year, now there are about 4,000. So they're starting to turn it around there, but what's it going to take beyond the security is jobs for these people, making their lives a little better, and this is where Bowen's report comes in.

One of the problems is creating large factories where they can employ hundreds of people. But the problem is that the lack of electricity, for example, is a real problem here. And they need much more electricity and much more money out there, reconstruction money, before they can get some of this going.

INSKEEP: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Thanks very much.

BOWMAN: Thank you, Steve.

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