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U.S. Water Project in W. Iraq Plagued by Problems

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Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, October 27, 2008; Page A10

BAGHDAD, Oct. 26 -- A U.S.-funded water-treatment system for the city of Fallujah will be completed at least three years late, cost more than three times as much as originally planned and serve only a fraction of the city, according to a report by the official monitoring Iraq's reconstruction.

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The $32.5 million project was launched in July 2004 -- when insurgents largely controlled the city -- and U.S. officials expected it to be completed in January 2006, according to a report set for release Monday. Now, the main contractor assigned to the project has been let go, costs have ballooned to $98 million and the system, which is expected to be operational in April, will serve 38 percent of the city's 400,000 residents, inspector general Stuart W. Bowen Jr. concluded.

The Fallujah water-treatment system is the only U.S.-funded project of its kind. American officials made it a priority because they wanted to show their commitment to rebuilding a predominantly Sunni city that was nearly obliterated in 2004 during some of the war's fiercest urban combat.

The inspector general's office launched a probe in the summer after U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker expressed concern over the delays and cost overruns.

The multibillion-dollar U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq's ailing infrastructure has been stymied by violence, bureaucratic infighting, poor performance by contractors and disagreements between American and Iraqi officials. Oftentimes, U.S. officials have launched reconstruction projects in areas that remain volatile, said Brian Flynn, assistant inspector general for inspections.

"Of the more than 130 inspections we've done of projects in Iraq, this is the most dangerous we've seen for the people involved," Flynn said in a telephone interview Sunday night. "It boggles the mind as to what they were thinking."

Work started in the summer of 2004, a few months after the first battle of Fallujah. The second offensive, during which U.S. Marines wrested control of the city in late 2004, left Fallujah in a shambles.

South Carolina-based FluorAMEC began work in July 2004. By September 2005, amid concerns over delays and unforeseen costs, the contract was terminated. U.S. officials awarded 45 contracts to Iraqi companies to finish the work. The report does not allege that money was stolen and does not fault FluorAMEC.

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