Report Says Iraq Lags on Rebuilding

Bayan Jabr, Iraq's minister of finance,
Bayan Jabr, Iraq's minister of finance, "effectively [halted]" handovers of reconstruction projects, said a report by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. (By Hadi Mizban -- Associated Press)
By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Iraqi government has failed to accept responsibility for more than 2,000 reconstruction projects completed under the multibillion-dollar U.S. program to rebuild Iraq, according to a U.S. government oversight agency that has repeatedly warned Iraqis are not maintaining and operating such projects.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction said in a report released Friday that as of May 31, the United States had completed 2,797 projects, valued at $5.8 billion. Iraq's national government, however, had accepted only 435 of them, worth $501 million.

In many cases, U.S. agencies have instead handed their work over to local entities, many of which don't have the funds needed to maintain them, the report said.

The report specifically faults Iraq's Finance Ministry, the agency designated to accept completed projects. Since July 2006, two months after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his cabinet were installed, the Iraq government hasn't accepted a single U.S.-constructed project, said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. The Finance Ministry and its minister, Bayan Jabr, who was appointed under al-Maliki, changed the process of how Iraq accepts finished reconstruction projects, the report said, "effectively halting" handovers.

"There was a program in place, and shortly after Finance Minister Jabr came on is when the asset transfer got off track," Bowen said yesterday. Bowen said the Iraqis have "abandoned" the program.

The United States has spent more than $20 billion into its reconstruction efforts in Iraq, repairing key parts of the oil, water and electricity infrastructure as well as building facilities -- all intended to be turned over to Iraq's central government. Since late 2005, the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office -- created to coordinate the efforts of various U.S. agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the Agency for International Development -- had teamed with the Finance Ministry "because of the Ministry's broad budgetary/financial responsibility and funding authority," the report said.

But in the face of what the report called the Iraqi government's "unanticipated reluctance to accept project ownership and responsibility" over the past year, U.S. agencies have turned over some completed to Iraqi leaders. The report said that process was complicated because it was often difficult to find a local official who had authority to sign for the project, manuals for operating and running the facilities were sometimes missing, and there was "a general unwillingness to accept responsibility for the asset."

Bowen said turning projects over at the local level is also a concern because officials may not have the financial resources to train staff or operate, repair and maintain the projects.

In previous reports, Bowen has raised concerns about the Iraqis' ability to keep up and run projects. His office recently completed inspections of 12 projects and found that only two had not had problems with operations or maintenance.

In one case, workers at Baghdad's Dora power station in Baghdad have used oil to fuel generators built to run on natural gas, causing them to break more often. Another report told of how Baghdad's frequent power outages caused refrigerated food at the Iraqi military's al-Rasheed Brigade base to go bad, resulting in "stomach-related illnesses" for 300 Iraqi troops.

"We've raised concerns about the Iraqis' capacity to maintain what the U.S. has provided, and that, in conjunction with us now saying there are problems with transferring the assets, should raise concerns about the sustainability of U.S. projects," Bowen said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company