By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 26, 2011; A04
A top U.S. oversight office has recommended that the United States halt further funding for a $26 million education academy for senior Iraqi security officials after discovering that the Iraqi government had never agreed to operate or maintain the facility.
The United States has spent more than $13 million on the project.
"At this point, it is unclear if the GOI [Government of Iraq] will budget for the operations and maintenance of the IIA [Iraqi International Academy] upon completion," said Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, in a report sent to the Central Command's Gen. James N. Mattis and released Tuesday. "Without such an agreement, U.S. funds spent on construction are at risk of being wasted, as are the funds planned to equip and furnish the facility," Bowen added.
Bowen said in the report that his organization has repeatedly noted the necessity of getting Iraq to "buy-in as an essential element to a project's long-term success." He recalled as an example that in the $35.5 million project to create an economic zone at Baghdad International Airport, 24 projects costing about $16 million were not being maintained or used.
The inspector general's report found that the U.S. military training mission, which developed the project, never raised with the Iraqi government its responsibility to operate the facility. And although Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in 2009 authorized his defense ministry to pay money to move families out of the buildings that were to become the academy, his government had never agreed to take over its operation.
Meanwhile, the United States has paid out $13.4 million to a construction contractor who has developed a campus that includes three classroom buildings, an administrative office building, a dining facility, housing for almost 200 people, and "a state-of-the-art student center with a large auditorium, coffee shop, library and research center," according to the report.
In addition, the original plan for an English language institute to train Iraqi personnel in the defense and interior ministries grew to become an institute that offered courses on security studies and public administration, along with English. It also grew international in stature by including as students some military and government officials from neighboring countries.
Bowen's investigators interviewed Iraqi defense ministry officials and found "as one official stated, he simply assumed the United States would fund the operations . . . for at least one year." In addition, the investigators discovered the U.S. side had never provided Iraqis with estimates on the size and cost of any proposed faculty, or expenses for maintaining the facilities, or the equipment that the U.S. would supply.
Back in 2009, the report said, the original idea was that the U.S. State and Defense departments would work "in collaboration" with the Iraqi government to fund the English language institute. There was never any commitment that the Iraqis would fund the larger academy, nor did the Maliki government ever identify a ministry that would take on that responsibility.
Without any bilateral agreement, Bowen recommended that the United States not pay out the remaining $12 million set aside to provide furnishing and equipment for the academy.
He also said U.S. officials should inform the Iraqi government "that it is their responsibility" to purchase such equipment. By doing so, Bowen added, the Iraqis "would be more likely to guard and use the items rather than removing or not using them as they have done in the past with U.S.-purchased equipment."