IRAQ: Private Security Spending Escalates in Iraq

The United States risks having "little to show for billions" of dollars spent on Iraqi reconstruction because of rising security costs and mismanagement, a new report said.
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USA Today

WASHINGTON - The United States risks having "little to show for billions" of dollars spent on Iraqi reconstruction because of rising security costs and mismanagement, a new report said Sunday. 

Rapidly escalating security costs have made it impossible for U.S. agencies to estimate how much they will need to finish projects intended to increase production of oil and electricity and improve sanitation and health, wrote Stuart Bowen, the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

U.S. agencies must determine whether they have enough money to finish the projects and whether the Iraqis have "the tools and knowledge necessary" to keep the projects working after the Americans leave, Bowen wrote. "A failure on either of these points risks leaving little to show for billions in U.S. infrastructure investment," he said.

Bowen was appointed to monitor $18.4 billion allocated for Iraqi reconstruction in 2004. Overall, $24 billion has been approved and $9 billion spent since 2003, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress' watchdog agency.

According to a report issued Thursday by the GAO, security costs are consuming more than a third of reconstruction funds. The report said that 330 private contractors, many of them working for security companies, had been killed.

The new report was issued amid conflicting accounts of Iraqis' progress toward writing a new constitution. Humam Hammoudi, chairman of the committee drafting the constitution, told the Associated Press that the panel needed a 30-day extension, while Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said the committee would meet the Aug. 15 deadline. (Related story: Iraqi framers seek extension)

The Bush administration has tied hopes to withdraw some of the 135,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq to political progress and a reduction in violence.

Five U.S. soldiers died in bomb blasts Saturday, according to the U.S. military. On Sunday, a car bomb exploded south of Baghdad, killing five people, AP said. (Related story: Soldiers killed)

Gunmen also ambushed the convoy of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi south of Baghdad, killing one of his bodyguards.

Chalabi, a onetime U.S. ally who was among the most vocal proponents of toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein, was not harmed and may not have been in the convoy at the time.

Among other new findings from the Bowen report:

• "Insufficient internal controls have created conditions for mismanagement," and reconstruction efforts are hampered "by high turnover of key personnel."

• At least 12 offices from six U.S. agencies are spending Iraqi reconstruction money. These offices rarely share information and are poorly coordinated, which "can result in waste and duplication of efforts."

• Iraq is producing 2.1 million barrels of oil a day and exporting only 1.4 million to 1.6 million barrels, compared to 2.6 million produced and 2.1 million exported before the war, the GAO said.

• Electricity output exceeded 100,000 megawatt hours in June, the Bowen report said, just above a prewar level of 95,000 megawatt hours.

• One bright spot: Iraq now has 2.6 million cell phone subscribers.

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