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US Official: Violence, Poor Management Hampering Iraq Recovery

The U.S. official responsible for auditing reconstruction efforts in Iraq has told Congress that violence, management problems, and inadequate Iraqi government contributions continue to hamper economic recovery there. VOA's Dan Robinson reports on a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill.

In his latest appearance before Congress, Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, said while reconstruction efforts have not failed, key problems continue to challenge "all that the U.S. program has sought" to accomplish on the reconstruction front. "The reconstruction program in Iraq has been fraught with challenge, a mixture of success and failure, shortfalls and successful projects achieved," he said.

While numerous projects have been completed under the $21-billion Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund, Bowen notes that the burden of reconstruction has is now squarely on the shoulders of the Iraqi government.

Ninety percent of that fund has been spent, along with about 80 percent of another fund for Iraqi security forces.

On his recent 16th visit to Iraq, Bowen says he encountered a palpably dangerous environment adding that lack of security is chief among obstacles hampering reconstruction.

The U.S. House Foreign affairs committee chairman Tom Lantos voices frustration with the reconstruction effort. "These are the projects we handed off with so much fanfare. It is simply outrageous that we are mired in the same mud of incompetence that we got stuck in last year and the year before that," he said.

Lantos and others refer not only to poor execution by contractors on specific projects, such as the Baghdad Police College, but to a pattern in which Iraqis are often unable to sustain them.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says lessons should be learned. "Serious errors have been made and continue to be made in the reconstruction process and we must learn from these and achieve long-term reconstruction goals which are directly inter-twined with long-term security and stability objectives," he said.

Iraq Inspector General Bowen says the Iraqi government has failed to devote resources from its budget, which stands at about $41 billion, to address a range of needs. "Last year they spent about 22 percent of their capital budget. That is not going to remedy the very real problems within their infrastructure that currently exist, that cause low output of oil, that cause limited generation of [electric] power on the grid," he said.

Bowen says corruption remains endemic in Iraq, with an estimate of $5 billion lost to it annually.

Committee member,Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman, says the impact on the oil and electricity generation sectors is worrisome. "Two months ago, the Iraqi government was still not producing either oil or electricity at rates that matched pre-war performance, nor were they able to spend a significant amount of the money they had budgeted to improve either situation. Two months later the same could still be said," he said.

Unhappiness in Congress with the failure of key donors to fulfill pledges for Iraq made in a 2004 conference in Madrid led to some drama during the hearing as Congressman Lantos pressed Bowen to name those countries with shortfalls. "We are not afraid to embarrass countries which made commitments at a public donors conference and failed to fulfill them," he said.

It also produced this exchange between Bowen and Republican Congressman Dan Burton:

BURTON: We are pouring our money into there, and our life's blood into there, and we are protecting their fannies over there, and they are not living up to their commitment. I just would like to know who is policing that?

BOWEN: Well Mr. Burton, you are exactly right because our commitment was the [Iraq Reconstruction Fund] and we provided 100 percent of it, $21 billion as opposed to $500 million or $250 million [by others].

Bowen estimated that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates had fulfilled less than 10 percent of their pledges, while European Commission pledges have also lagged.

He repeats a call for better integration among U.S. government agencies regarding post-conflict management pointing to weak program and project oversight.

And Bowen expresses concern that Iraqi government's anti-corruption efforts, including enforcement powers, have been weakened by decisions in the Iraqi prime minister's office and a provision in the Iraqi criminal code that permits the exemption of government employees from prosecution.