Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction’s “Hard Lessons” – Preface

In January 2009 the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) released a heavy tome, over 500 pages long, reviewing America’s attempt to rebuild Iraq after the 2003 invasion. The report, entitled “Hard Lessons” begins with the pre-war planning for Iraq that started in mid-2002, and goes all the way up to the fall of 2008. The paper is far too long to read or digest in one fell swoop, so instead it will be tackled chapter by chapter. Overall, SIGIR found that America’s effort was uncoordinated, derailed by the security situation, and relied upon a bad contracting process. America’s greatest success in this endeavor was to build up the Iraqi security forces, but it failed to reconstruct the country’s basic services, infrastructure, and economy.

The Inspector General was first created during the time of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). It was originally called the Coalition Provisional Authority Office of Inspector General. In October 2004 it became the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. At the same time Stuart Bowen was appointed its director, a position he holds to this day.

Since the 2003 invasion the U.S. has committed around $50 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq. It is the largest rebuilding project ever attempted by the United States. “Hard Lessons” believes that the Bush administration lacked unity of command and coordination when dealing with Iraq. To make things worse American policy and personnel were often changed. Security also became such an overriding concern that it derailed and diverted much of the reconstruction plan. Bad contracts and the lack of oversight and management also led to massive waste. The U.S. relied upon cost-plus contracts that paid companies a fixed price plus costs, allowed high overheads, paid excessive fees, and consented to long delays that all led to large cost overruns. At the same time, there were very few cases of fraud or corruption as seen by the few criminal cases that have been prosecuted.

As soon as the SIGIR went to Iraq it began to see problems. The first was the large amounts of cash that were used by the CPA to pay for everything. The U.S. for example, flew in $12 billion in $100 bills to Iraq from the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City in 2004. Second, the attacks in the country shot up security costs and delayed many projects. Last, SIGIR believed that the CPA set too many grand goals for what they could accomplish in Iraq.

All of these and more led to some tough criticisms in “Hard Lessons.” It does not believe that the U.S. met its goals for reconstructing Iraq. Electricity and oil production for example are still below goals set by the CPA. The number of successfully completed projects is also below expectations. SIGIR believes the lack of security in the country was the major cause for this failure. The U.S. was able to build up Iraq’s security forces largely from scratch after the CPA disbanded the armed forces. They have gone through a massive expansion, and while there are still problems, they have more capabilities then before. In the end, SIGIR believes that the U.S. did not have the resources or organization to carry out such a grandiose plan as rebuilding Iraq.


Glanz, James, “In Ramadi, Real Rebuilding, With Fresh Paint,” New York Times, 11/23/08

Pallister, David, “How the US sent $12bn in cash to Iraq. And watched it vanish,” Guardian, 2/8/07

Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09

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