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Iraq Reconstruction Effort Fraught With ‘Fraud, Waste and Abuse’

March 6, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn to Iraq and a new report critical of U.S. reconstruction efforts in the country.

It was September 2004. President Bush appeared in the Rose Garden 18 months after he had ordered the invasion of Iraq. The insurgency was raging, but he had an optimistic view of the American effort beyond the fighting.

FORMER PRESDIENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Electricity has been restored above pre-war levels. Telephone service has increased dramatically. More than 2,000 schools have been renovated and millions of new textbooks have been distributed. There is much more work to be done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, a decade after the war began, Iraqi and U.S. officials portray much of the work as failures, wasted opportunities, miscalculated and mistakes. It’s all in a final report by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart Bowen.

He offers a damning appraisal of a project well-intentioned, but hugely wasteful in money and lives. To date, rebuilding Iraq has cost more than $60 billion dollars in U.S. funds, and more than 700 people have died supporting reconstruction, apart from tens of thousands of Iraqis and 4,400 Americans killed in the war itself.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Bowen that the overall benefit to Iraq was small when compared with the size of the sums spent. And U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said, the level of fraud, waste and abuse in Iraq was appalling. She recalled she was angered to learn that reconstruction money found its way into the hands of insurgent groups.

Bowen also concluded that $8 billion of a separate fund of nearly $24 billion dollars in Iraqi money was wasted. It came from Iraqi oil and gas revenues and seized assets, and was flown to Baghdad by the U.S. in the form of cash.

California Congressman Henry Waxman was incredulous at that revelation in 2007.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN, D-Calif.: The cash weighed more than 363 tons and was loaded onto C-130 cargo planes to be flown into Baghdad. The numbers are so large that it doesn’t seem possible that they’re true. Who in their right mind would send 360 tons of cash into a war zone?

JUDY WOODRUFF: According to Bowen, the list of poorly-conceived, over-budget and badly-managed projects is long, including a $100 million dollar wastewater treatment plant in Fallujah that serves only 9,000 homes, and is eight years behind schedule, and the Basra Children’s Hospital in Iraq’s South, 200 percent over budget, four years behind schedule and still incomplete.