Oversight of Iraq reconstruction winding down

As Congress and the White House wrestle over a firm timeline for withdrawal from the war in Iraq, plans are under way to wrap up reconstruction funding and oversight.

Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, testified Tuesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee that "the phase wherein the U.S. bears the burden of financing Iraq reconstruction has passed," and outlined the investigations, audits and reports his office will issue before closing its doors at the end of 2008.

The plans include issuing more "sustainment" reports that go back to completed projects to assess how the new managers are faring. At several of the sites visited for a series of such reports in April, equipment was not operating due to breakdowns or lack of training among Iraqi workers. New power and sewage systems had fallen into disrepair.

Bowen said over the coming months he expects to see significant progress on cases of fraud and other wrongdoing that his office has turned over to Justice Department prosecutors. The office also will publish the results of investigations targeting Blackwater security contracts, Parsons Corp. and DynCorp International, as well as contract management by the Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence and the Army Corps of Engineers.

An upcoming audit will examine Iraqi anti-corruption institutions, which Bowen said are hobbled by laws that exempt ministers, any employee designated by a minister, and former ministers from prosecution.

Bowen attributed many of the problems encountered in the Iraq reconstruction programs to the difficulty of rebuilding in a war zone, and said corruption among Iraqi institutions represents "a second insurgency" in terms of the challenge it presents.

Achievements on the ground have fallen far short of what was initially planned. Only eight of 150 planned primary health centers have opened, and the country pumps 2.5 million barrels of oil per day, short of the 3 million barrels promised four years ago, according to opening remarks by committee chairman Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif.

Committee lawmakers lavished praise on Bowen's oversight work in Iraq, telling his mother, who sat behind the IG in the audience, that she should be proud of him.

But Lantos put Bowen on the hot seat at one point, pushing the inspector general to list the countries that had fallen short on the delivery of reconstruction funds pledged during an October 2004 meeting in Madrid.

When Bowen resisted the chairman's instruction to recite aloud the names of the offending donors, Lantos forced the issue. "No, I will not take your answer later, I will take it now," the chairman said.

Bowen informed the panel that the European Commission delivered less than 10 percent of the $4 billion it pledged, while Saudi Arabia and Kuwait turned over similar fractions of their $500 million pledges and United Arab Emirates failed to follow through on a pledge of $250 million.

Bowen said his access to data on delivered funds was sharply reduced last fall when the Iraqi government took over collection, so the figures he quoted were not fully reliable.

Lantos called the funding shortfall a disgrace.

But separately, the chairman expressed full support for Bowen regarding an ongoing investigation into allegations that the IG wasted public funds on a book summing up the reconstruction and falsified time sheets. Lantos said that without knowing any details of the complaints, he had full confidence in the IG.

Bowen said the complaint was "virtually over" and that he is not concerned about the matter.

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