Rebuilding Iraq: An Unfinished Business Recent audits released by the U.S. government show a mixed legacy of America's $50 billion reconstruction effort in Iraq. The reports highlight how the U.S. military is deeply involved with the reconstruction of Iraq — and how it may be tricky to draw down and transfer authority to the Iraqis.
NPR logo

Rebuilding Iraq: An Unfinished Business

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Rebuilding Iraq: An Unfinished Business

Rebuilding Iraq: An Unfinished Business

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


The pace of troop withdrawal from Iraq and the transfer to Iraqi control continues to be a subject of debate. At the same time, the U.S. military is just as deeply involved with the reconstruction of Iraq.

That drawdown could be tricky, too, as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE: North of Baghdad, in the desert outside the city of Baqubah, is a sprawling structure that locals have begun to label The Whale. It was meant to be a new maximum security prison built by the U.S.

The only thing operational on the half-mile-wide, unfinished construction site is a makeshift guardhouse. Over the shack, an Iraqi flag waves in a steady breeze that feels like a hair dryer.

Two guards from the nearby town of Khan Bani Saad say that the Iraqi government was never asked if they wanted a prison here.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: The American company came to build this prison. Who are we to prevent them, asks one of the guards.

Iraq is desperately short of modern prisons, but that's beside the point. After paying $45 million to an American company called Parsons, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers canceled the project three years ago. The facility was so poorly built that it's only fit for demolition, which would cost another few million dollars.

A local resident, who gave his name only as Abu Muhammad, says that the project shaped his opinion of Americans.

Mr. ABU MUHAMMAD: You know, Americans are human beings - some of them bad, some of them good.

LAWRENCE: Walking around the half-built prison, Abu Muhammad says that Americans seem to have taken to the local way of doing business.

Mr. MUHAMMAD: I know a captain, one of the Americans. When he come here to - he was put his hand in the subcontractor like this, we need money. They learned from us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LAWRENCE: You think they learned corruption from you?


Ms. GINGER CRUZ (Deputy Special Inspector General, Iraqi Reconstruction) Well, Khan Bani Saad is an example that I think serves the $40 million lesson to the U.S. government in how not to do reconstruction.

LAWRENCE: Ginger Cruz is the U.S. deputy special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction, which has been releasing audits all summer on the mixed legacy of America's $50 billion reconstruction effort in Iraq. One good example are the Commander's Emergency Relief Programs, CERP for short.

The money was seen as a crucial weapon in counterinsurgency, which was used for everything from health clinics to paying the salaries of former insurgents who agreed to join the Sons of Iraq program, which is credited with neutralizing the sectarian war in Iraq.

But now, the government of Iraq is paying those salaries, and U.S. soldiers have pulled out of the cities, beginning a slow withdrawal from Iraq. The CERP program should shrink as well, says Cruz.

Ms. CRUZ: Should CERP continue to get $500 million in 2010, at a time when the troops are drawing down, there is a goal of having only 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by August of 2010.

LAWRENCE: This year, the military actually ran out of ways to spend CERP money and returned a surplus $247 million to the Treasury.

Some of the more creative ways the money was spent may be harder to transfer to Iraqi control. For example, the U.S. Army built a hotel and business center near the Baghdad airport. But when they turned the business center over to the Iraqi Transportation Ministry, the leather chairs and flat screen TVs were looted by ministry officials.

The Army is now reluctant to hand over the hotel, which actually turns a profit. Which leaves them in the hospitality business, says Ginger Cruz from the Inspector General's Office.

Ms. CRUZ: As a result, the U.S. Army continues to have a management contract with a private firm that continues to run the hotel, which provides rooms at $225 a day at the Baghdad International Airport.

LAWRENCE: Cruz says that many of the CERP projects were managed responsibly and will be of great benefit to the Iraqi people.

Unfortunately, commanders realized during the worst of the insurgency that American-funded police stations and hospitals were becoming targets for car bombs.

In response, they tried to conceal signs of American funding, which means Iraqis will never know many of the things the Americans did build for them.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.

BLOCK: Another international story we're following today: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged the Iranian government to provide information on three missing Americans and return them as quickly as possible.

The three are said to be tourists and were arrested after allegedly entering Iran, according to Iran's state-run Al-Alam television network.

Clinton told reporters, we want this matter brought to a resolution as soon as possible. Because the U.S. does not have diplomatic ties with Iran, Secretary Clinton said she has asked Switzerland to seek information from Tehran about the missing U.S. citizens.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.