Saturday, November 18, 2006

Was it worth it?

The London Review of Books has an article titled The Least Accountable Regime in the Middle East. It is about our efforts in Iraq, and Albany Catholic recommends it to all our readers.
. . . Iraq has run out of reconstruction money. The funds in the so-called Development Fund for Iraq – some $20 billion of Iraqi money – were spent by Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority in the first year of the occupation. The US Embassy in Baghdad has spent virtually all of the $18.4 billion that Congress appropriated for ‘rebuilding’ the country; $5.6 billion of it was used to run the embassy, promote American ‘values’ and set up the new armed forces and police. Most of the American money never even gets to Iraq. The bulk of it has gone to American consultants, or into American contractors’ international bank accounts.

‘Most of the projects planned in sewerage, irrigation, drainage and dams have been cancelled,’ the auditors of the US Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR) report. Others have been ‘descoped’. A 238 km canal brings fresh water to Basra from the Gharraf river, a tributary of the Tigris. The long neglected banks of the canal are crumbling. There was a plan to line its entire length with concrete; the idea now is merely to repair one badly damaged 20 km stretch. This is what ‘descoped’ means. In July, SIGIR could find no evidence of emergency repairs or even routine maintenance. According to the increasingly implausible State Department, Iraq’s basic utilities – its electricity, oil production and water supply – have reached standards close to or above those under Saddam. The US General Accountability Office (GAO), however, says these claims are meaningless, since they are based on numbers of completed projects, without indicating how much has been done of what was originally planned.

One thing is certain: the Coalition has created and fostered the least accountable and least transparent regime in the Middle East. It’s impossible to say whether it’s also the most corrupt, because so little is known about how Iraq’s ministers spend their government’s revenue. The US Embassy says it’s trying to find out, but it hasn’t had much success. Paul Bremer handed over $8.8 billion in cash to the interim government in the first year of occupation; it has never been accounted for. American auditors are also still in the dark about Iraq’s reconstruction budget for the two years that followed: another $14 billion. ‘SIGIR has no further information about how much of these funds has been expended.’ Iraqis don’t know either, since there are no meaningful public accounts.

The rest of the article is available here.