Iraq has been the largest reconstruction project ever attempted by the United Sates. When the Coalition Provisional Authority took over administration of Iraq in April 2003 it was focused upon completely transforming the country through large, multi-million dollar reconstruction projects. Many of these were started without regard to security, cost, oversight, or the needs of Iraqis. By the time of the Surge in 2007 the emphasis was changing to providing money directly to Iraqis at the community level to produce smaller, more local projects. This was facilitated through the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP), which was ready cash and loans that U.S. officers could distribute upon their own discretion. Recent reports show that this strategy may have run into some of the same problems as the CPA’s policy.
The Commander’s Fund has received $3.63 billion since its inception in 2004, of which $2.58 billion has actually been spent. The most notable project funded under the CERP was the Sons of Iraq. It has also paid for schools, mini-grants to Iraqi businessmen, and compensation to Iraqis that suffered losses at the hands of U.S. forces.
Recent reports by the Washington Post and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) have noted that some of these projects have been misused or not been taken over by the Iraqis. The U.S. military paid for a performance hall in Sadr City for example, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but has not been used once since its completion. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) just conducted an audit of a $4.2 million CERP project to build a hotel in Baghdad that when finished was looted by Iraqis. The U.S. eventually had to hire a contractor to run it because they were afraid that Sadrists in the Ministry of Transportation, which had control of the business, would shut down the hotel and strip it bare.
Similar problems have occurred with larger, more expensive, non-CERP U.S.-funded schemes. A January 2009 audit by SIGIR on reconstruction efforts on Iraq’s southern oil and gas industry found that Iraqis were unwilling or incapable of taking over and maintaining many of the projects completed by the U.S. there, which cost $1.2 billion. There are other stories of entire power plants sitting idle because the Iraqis could not operate them properly.
All of these reports highlight a major dilemma facing the United States. American officials and soldiers have initiated thousands of projects since 2003 with the best of intentions, but have always had problems coordinating with Iraqis and figuring out their needs. The result has been huge amounts of waste. That’s not to say that there aren’t successful reconstruction works finished in Iraq, but that the fact that millions of dollars worth of equipment and facilities are sitting idle and unused undermines the entire effort. This is one reason why the Inspector General believes that the U.S. has failed to rebuild Iraq despite committing $52.27 billion.
Londono, Ernesto, “U.S. ‘Money Weapon’ Yields Mixed Results,” Washington Post, 7/27/09
Ryan, Missy and Qusay, Aws, “Iraqis Measure Progress with Flip of Switch,” Reuters, 11/14/08
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Cost, Outcome, and Oversight of Iraq Oil Reconstruction Contract with Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc.,” 1/13/09
- “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09
- “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 7/30/09
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/09