In June 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority authorized the construction of a wastewater treatment plant in the city of Fallujah in Anbar province. It was given special priority because Fallujah had just been devastated by a major battle between U.S. Marines and insurgents, and the Americans were hoping the plant would help win over the residents. Instead, the plant ran into delays, funding shortages, and attacks that greatly affected its completion. Today, the plant is operating, but only covers a fraction of the population it was originally supposed to, and it’s estimated that it still needs years more work to be completed. Fallujah’s wastewater project went from a centerpiece of the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq, to a symbol of its failure.
|The hanging of American security contractors in March 2004 led to the first Battle of Fallujah (NoGW)|
and many relocated to Mosul, only to return later. It was still too dangerous for Fluor AMEC, but the Marines okayed work to begin again anyway. Like the CPA, the U.S. forces were hoping that the water treatment plant would be a good follow up to the offensive to show that the Americans had the needs of the people in mind. The Marines also believed that all the work could still be completed in 18 months, like the original contract stipulated. That proved completely unrealistic.
|(Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction)|
Work went ahead anyway, and the Americans ended up transferring control of the project to the Iraqis. In 2008, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker was worried about the future of the water plant, and called for an audit. It found that the lack of security was causing massive delays, a ballooning of costs, and a reduction of how much of Fallujah the project was going to serve. In 2009, the U.S. began thinking about turning over the plant to the Iraqis, because it was such a hassle. Baghdad however, did not have the capacity to finish the work at the time. Despite that, on May 2, 2011, the city of Fallujah and the Anbar provincial government had an opening ceremony for the wastewater treatment facility. The plant began operating for the first time, but only one of the four sewage lines was working, and it did not cover all residents as originally planned. In July, the Electricity Ministry connected the plant to the service lines in Anbar, and the State Department eventually contracted a company to train locals on operating procedures. Some of this was simply for show, because work was not completed, and only a fraction of Fallujah was served by the plant. It was also a sign that the Americans were through with the project, and wanted the Iraqis to take responsibility for it.
The Fallujah plant has proven to be a symbol of the failure of the United States to rebuild Iraq. As of September 2011, the project has cost $107.8 million, almost four times more expensive than originally planned. Although it is operating, it only connects 6,000 homes, approximately 38,400 people out of a total of 100,000, roughly one third of the city. Work is still not complete, but now Baghdad is supposed to finish it. That will cost an estimated $87 million and three more years, plus there is no guarantee that the Iraqis are up to the task. The one positive is that the plant can be expanded to serve the entire city if the Iraqi government has the means. The fact that the CPA embarked on this path from the beginning is the real issue. A massive infrastructure project in one of the most violent cities in Iraq should have never been started in the first place. No successful construction can be carried out within an insurgent hotbed where security is a constant issue. The Americans pressed ahead anyway, because the deal always had a political dimension to it. The CPA was hoping that the wastewater plant could win hearts and minds of Iraqis. Instead, it became a target of militants, and has never met its original goals. This was the problem not only in Fallujah, but across Iraq. Instead of large programs, the United States should have done much smaller ones, in close coordination with Iraqi communities, so that it could meet their needs, and be something that local Iraqi governments could maintain afterward. Instead, the U.S. went ahead with what they wanted, which proved unrealistic, a huge waste of money, and cost the lives of people that might not have lost them if not for the hubris of American officials.
Byman, Daniel, “An Autopsy of the Iraq Debacle: Policy Failure or Bridge Too Far?” Security Studies, October 2008
Davidson, Amy, “How Iraq Came Undone,” New Yorker, 11/15/04
Hamilton, Eric, “The Fight for Mosul,” Institute for the Study of War, 4/29/08
Kagan, Kimberly, “The Anbar Awakening: Displacing al Qaeda from Its Stronghold in Western Iraq,” Institute For The Study of War and Weekly Standard, 8/21/06-3/30/07
Rosen, Nir, “Home Rule,” New Yorker, 7/5/04
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Falluja Waste Water Treatment System: A Case Study in Wartime Contracting,” 10/30/11
Thomas Ricks, Fiasco, New York: Penguin Press, 2006