Correction to This Article
An April 3 article quoted Stuart Bowen, the top U.S. auditor for reconstruction in Iraq, as saying, "I've been consumed for a year with the fear we would run out of money to finish projects." Bowen actually said, "I've been concerned about cost-to-complete for a year, and the reason I've been concerned about cost-to-complete is the fear that we would run out of money to finish projects, and so I can't say that this isn't going to happen again because we never really did get a good grasp on cost-to-complete data."

U.S. Plan to Build Iraq Clinics Falters

People receive medicine from U.S. troops in Shumeyt village, north of Baghdad. A contract for the building of 142 primary health centers across Iraq has run out of money, with 20 clinics now expected to be completed.
People receive medicine from U.S. troops in Shumeyt village, north of Baghdad. A contract for the building of 142 primary health centers across Iraq has run out of money, with 20 clinics now expected to be completed. (By Sasa Kralj -- Associated Press)

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By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, April 3, 2006

BAGHDAD -- A reconstruction contract for the building of 142 primary health centers across Iraq is running out of money, after two years and roughly $200 million, with no more than 20 clinics now expected to be completed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says.

The contract, awarded to U.S. construction giant Parsons Inc. in the flush, early days of reconstruction in Iraq, was expected to lay the foundation of a modern health care system for the country, putting quality medical care within reach of all Iraqis.

Parsons, according to the Corps, will walk away from more than 120 clinics that on average are two-thirds finished. Auditors say the project serves as a warning for other U.S. reconstruction efforts due to be completed this year.

Brig. Gen. William McCoy, the Army Corps commander overseeing reconstruction in Iraq, said he still hoped to complete all 142 clinics as promised and was seeking emergency funds from the U.S. military and foreign donors. "I'm fairly confident," McCoy said.

Coming with little public warning, the 86 percent shortfall of completions dismayed the World Health Organization's representative for Iraq. "That's not good. That's shocking," Naeema al-Gasseer said by telephone from Cairo. "We're not sending the right message here. That's affecting people's expectations and people's trust, I must say."

By the end of 2006, the $18.4 billion that Washington has allocated for Iraq's reconstruction runs out. All remaining projects in the U.S. reconstruction program, including electricity, water, sewer, health care and the justice system, are due for completion. As a result, the next nine months are crunchtime for the easy-term contracts that were awarded to American contractors early on, before surging violence drove up security costs and idled workers.

Stuart Bowen, the top U.S. auditor for reconstruction, warned in a telephone interview from Washington that other reconstruction efforts may fall short like that of Parsons. "I've been consumed for a year with the fear we would run out of money to finish projects," said Bowen, the inspector general for reconstruction in Iraq.

The reconstruction campaign in Iraq is the largest such American undertaking since World War II. The rebuilding efforts have remained a point of pride for American troops and leaders as they struggle with an insurgency and now Shiite Muslim militias and escalating sectarian conflict.

The Corps of Engineers says the campaign so far has renovated or built 3,000 schools, upgraded 13 hospitals and created hundreds of border forts and police stations. Major projects this summer, the Corps says, should noticeably improve electricity and other basic services, which have fallen below prewar levels despite the billions of dollars that the United States already has expended toward reconstruction here.

Violence for which the United States failed to plan has consumed up to half the $18.4 billion through higher costs to guard project sites and workers and through direct shifts of billions of dollars to build Iraq's police and military.

In January, Bowen's office calculated the American reconstruction effort would be able to finish only 300 of 425 promised electricity projects and 49 of 136 water and sanitation projects.

U.S. authorities say they made a special effort to preserve the more than $700 million of work for Iraq's health care system, which had fallen into decay after two decades of war and international sanctions.


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