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Archive for Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Investigators: Millions in reconstruction aid wasted

January 31, 2007

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— The U.S. government wasted tens of millions of dollars in Iraq reconstruction aid, including scores of unaccounted-for weapons and a never-used camp for housing police trainers with an Olympic-size swimming pool, investigators say.

The quarterly audit by Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, is the latest to paint a grim picture of waste, fraud and frustration in an Iraq war and reconstruction effort that has cost taxpayers more than $300 billion and left the region near civil war.

"The security situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, hindering progress in all reconstruction sectors and threatening the overall reconstruction effort," according to the 579-page report, which was being released today.

Calling Iraq's sectarian violence the greatest challenge, Bowen said in a telephone interview that billions in U.S. aid spent on strengthening security has had limited effect. Reconstruction now will fall largely on Iraqis to manage - and they're nowhere ready for the task.

The audit comes as President Bush is pressing Congress to approve $1.2 billion in new reconstruction aid as part of his broader plan to stabilize Iraq by sending 21,500 more U.S. troops to Baghdad and Anbar province.

Democrats in Congress have been skeptical. Virginia Sen. Jim Webb has suggested that the U.S. is spending too much on Iraq reconstruction at the expense of Hurricane Katrina rebuilding in New Orleans, while California Rep. Henry Waxman plans in-depth hearings next week into charges of Iraq waste and fraud.

According to the report, the State Department paid $43.8 million to contractor DynCorp International for the residential camp for police training personnel outside of Baghdad's Adnan Palace grounds that has stood empty for months. About $4.2 million of the money was improperly spent on 20 VIP trailers and an Olympic-size pool, all ordered by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior but never authorized by the U.S.

U.S. officials spent another $36.4 million for weapons such as armored vehicles, body armor and communications equipment that can't be accounted for. DynCorp also may have prematurely billed $18 million in other potentially unjustified costs, the report said.

A spokesman for DynCorp, Greg Lagana, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Bowen, whose office was nearly eliminated last month by administration-friendly Republicans in Congress, called spending waste in Iraq a continuing problem. Corruption is high among Iraqi officials, while U.S. contract management remains somewhat weak.

With America's $21 billion rebuilding effort largely finished, it will be up to the international community and the Iraqis to step up their dollars to sustain reconstruction, Bowen said in the interview. "That will be a long-term and very expensive process," he said.

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