Monday, April 30, 2007

New SIGIR Report Outlines Reconstruction Challenges

As President Bush and Congress continue their stalemate over the 2007 supplemental spending bill, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) released its latest quarterly report today, stating in no uncertain terms that worsening security conditions, ongoing violence and far-reaching corruption will keep Iraqis from managing their country's reconstruction for the foreseeable future. The report echoes the recent sentiments of General David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, who admits that challenges still lay ahead in Iraq and anticipates "an enormous [U.S.] commitment" for some time to come.

The latest SIGIR report cites several trends in Iraq that are contributing to the setbacks in U.S. reconstruction efforts, chiefly:

* Corruption - The report notes that $5 billion is lost every year in Iraq due to fraud "which 'afflicts virtually every Iraqi ministry,' particularly the oil, interior and defense ministries." On a positive note, the report says that the Maliki government is making some strides toward ousting corruption within its ranks, so far weeding out eight ministers and 40 directors general, who are awaiting prosecution for the mismanagement of $8 billion in reconstruction funds.

* Violence & Unrest - Though the frequency of violent attacks seems to be down in Iraq, the scale of each attack has become more devastating, killing more people and crippling rebuilding efforts of desperately-needed public services. According to a BBC article, "The U.S. Defense Department says there are on average 1.4 attacks on critical electricity, water, oil and gas facilities each week." The SIGIR report adds, "Repair teams sent in after attacks continue to face threats, including kidnapping and murder." In a separate report, the State Department noted that in 2006 45 percent of the 14,338 terror attacks around the world took place in Iraq, an increase of 29 percent from the previous year.

* Poor Maintenance & Sustainability - The latest SIGIR report finds that, when projects are finally handed over to Iraqis, they "are not being adequately maintained." This is largely due to poor training and management. Take SIGIR’s evaluation of a hospital in Irbil, for example, where inspectors found that "a sophisticated oxygen distribution system was not used because staff did not trust it.” They also noted that needles and bandages were being tossed into the sewer system, causing it to clog, because the incinerator installed to deal with such waste was not in use. Why? Inspectors say it’s because no one on staff at the hospital was trained on how to operate the incinerator and, on top of that, no one had the key to unlock the incinerator door.

From a policy standpoint, what does the latest SIGIR report really mean? It further reinforces the importance of alternative solutions, pressing our leaders to reevaluate the United States’ current reconstruction strategy and urging them to seriously consider a new approach.

That's exactly what Congress and the White House have the opportunity to do with this year’s supplemental. By using this critical report and considering alternative approaches – such as those advocated by noted experts like Eric Davis and Lisa Schirch – Congress and the White House have the ability to fund a new strategy for peacebuilding in Iraq, leveraging a plan that could significantly and immediately improve the quality of life for millions of Iraqi families.

The challenge now is getting them to listen.

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