U.S. officials have told Congress U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq are being significantly, and expensively, hampered by security concerns. This was among the issues raised as lawmakers grilled administration representatives about what has happened to the millions of U.S. dollars that have been spent in Iraq for reconstruction projects.
Both Democrats and Republicans blasted what they considered a lack of accountability about the huge sums of money in Iraq. Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos said it is important that U.S. and Iraqi funds are not misused, and that reconstruction projects there are successful.
"Unless we show the Iraqi people that their liberation has brought tangible benefits, or at the very least, the restoration of central services to pre-war levels, key factions will continue to side with the insurgents, and not with forces of freedom," said Tom Lantos.
In his testimony to the House committee, USAID's James Kunder acknowledged that, in his words, mistakes have been made. But he blamed what he described as the "violence of the insurgency" as one of the main factors.
"As I've reported to the committee in the past, somewhere between 16 and 22 percent, depending on the program, of the reconstruction dollars are going in to security, paying for armed guards so we can conduct immunization programs for children, and so forth," said James Kunder.
At the same time, he said there are smaller-scale success stories that are taking place behind the scenes, such as efforts to improve Iraq's agricultural sector.
"One of the impediments, we discovered, to rebuilding that agricultural economy is [that there is] simply no infrastructure left to restore farm implements, to repair farm implements," he said. "So, U.S. taxpayer dollars have gone to create 14 tractor repair workshops around the country, where we're repairing thousands of pieces of agriculture equipment that had gone to rust and weren't working."
Meanwhile, the special inspector general in Iraq, Stuart Bowen, testified that his office has been involved in what he described as "aggressive oversight" of U.S. government projects in Iraq.
"They've completed 42 inspections, and 97 limited reviews," said Stuart Bowen. "And we've also been using overhead imagery to look at project sites that no one can get to, to make some assessment of how they're doing. And we've done 112 of those, with benefits, through engineering suggestions, that have been in the tens of millions of dollars."
Bowen added that there have been five arrests and two convictions, of individuals involved in fradulent use of U.S. funds in Iraq. He added that 20 more cases have been referred to the Department of Justice.
The congressionally mandated office of the special inspector general in Iraq was set up nearly two years ago.