Tuesday, June 28, 2011

U.S. Reconstruction Projects In Iraq And Afghanistan Going To Waste Because Of Lack Of Planning

In the beginning of June 2011, the Commission on Wartime Contacting in Iraq and Afghanistan issued its latest report. It warned that the U.S. could be wasting millions in reconstruction funds in the two countries. The Commission said that hundreds of projects could be left sitting idle because American agencies had not planned for how the host countries were supposed to maintain them.

The Commission said that as the U.S. draws down from Iraq and Afghanistan, it has to plan for maintaining the projects and programs it has created. In Iraq, the Americans have built hundreds of schools, clinics, roads, power plants, barracks, hospitals, irrigation projects, prisons, etc. All of those require maintenance, staff, payrolls, equipment, spare parts, and security to continue to operate after the United States has left. The Commission found no evidence that any government agency was making plans for these continued costs. If these things are not considered many of these projects could eventually fail, wasting billions of dollars.

There are plenty of examples of these problems in Iraq. First, the Commission noted that the Americans built 133 health-care centers for $345 million in the country. It paid a contactor to operate and repair the facilities for one year, but didn’t build up the capacity within the Health Ministry to continue with the task afterward. The Ministry could very well sign a new contract in a year, but it can’t keep up all the centers on its own. The U.S. also constructed a $270 million water-treatment plant in Nasiriyah, Dhi Qar with no nearby power source. It is often out of commission, produces murky water that locals won’t use, and the facility’s equipment is too sophisticated for its Iraqi staff to operate. In Hillah, Babil, there’s a $4 million maternity hospital that lacks enough staff and supplies, and the Iraqis were never trained on the equipment that the U.S. installed. In Baghdad, the Ibn Sina Hospital was the largest American military medical facility in Iraq, but when it was turned over to the Iraqis, the Health Ministry couldn’t maintain it, and it was shut down. All of these showed some of the shortcomings in the American reconstruction effort in Iraq. The U.S. came in with grand plans, but suffered from a lack of analysis of the situation within Iraq, poor planning, weak coordination, and a lack of follow through. One of the Commission’s chairmen, former Republican congressman Christopher Shays told the Washington Post, that the Iraqi government is not going to or can’t maintain most of the projects that the U.S. is leaving behind. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction made similar observations in the past. 

The Commission’s overall recommendation was that the United States needed to think about the countries they hoped to rebuild, and not just their own priorities. Each nation has at its own technical and financial capabilities. Those factors need to be considered when building projects overseas, so that they can be successfully operated and maintained. If those aren’t included in planning they can lead to waste, undermine the host government’s credibility, and hurt stability. Some of that has already been seen in Iraq where the Commission has found several billion dollars gone for naught in idle facilities. Unfortunately for the United States, it seems like the lessons have not been learned as the report found no government agency planning for these contingencies going into the future, and that many of the same mistakes are currently being made in Afghanistan as well. Despite being in the Afghanistan for ten years and Iraq for eight there seems to be little institutional memory being created that can stop these problems from happening again the next time an administration decides to partake in nation building.


Chandrasekaran, Rajiv, “U.S. projects in war zones are unsustainable, study finds,” Washington Post, 6/2/11

Commission on Wartime Contracting In Iraq And Afghanistan, “Sustainability: hidden costs risk new waste,” 6/3/11

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


Anonymous said...

Look, with regard to the hospitals, they could be operated, but the Ministry of Health is so corrupt and stupid they won't be. The Minister recently said he'd never approve a license for a private hospital, despite interest in that regard.

The Babel hospital, along with the Basra Children's Hospital and the Ibn Sina are begging for contracts that would: (1) bring in foreign medical staff to competently operate the hospital, and (2) train Iraqis alongside the foreign staff so they could one day operate the hospitals on their own.

The MOH has been told this. They don't care, because they haven't been able to find an angle in it for them, yet. Public interest is never enough when dealing with the GOI.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi said...

"The Commission’s overall recommendation was that the United States needed to think about the countries they hoped to rebuild, and not just their own priorities."

Well, even with regards to the United States' own priorities it cannot seem to get things right. Consider the gargantuan U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad. It's only a little smaller than Vatican City, and with a cinema, restaurants, schools, fire station, sports grounds etc., its budget comes to around $1.5 billion a year. Moreover, as Washington Post notes:

"The first signs of trouble … emerged when the kitchen staff tried to cook the inaugural meal in the new guard base on May 15[, 2007]. Some appliances did not work. Workers began to get electric shocks. Then a burning smell enveloped the kitchen as the wiring began to melt. … the electrical meltdown was just the first problem in a series of construction mistakes that soon left the base uninhabitable, including wiring problems, fuel leaks and noxious fumes in the sleeping trailers."


Not only does its ill-thought-out, massive size lead to these construction problems, it also has an aggressive location on appropriated land in the Green Zone.

So Joel, two questions arise:

1. Would you agree that the embassy "is seen by Iraqis as an indication of who actually exercises power in their country" (ICG) and implies some form of "permanent American rule" in Iraq (Daniel Pipes)?

2. Given Iraqi politicians' praise for this giant complex, would you agree with Pipes' description of Iraq's political figures as "America's kept politicians" in the country?

Joel Wing said...

Aymenn I definitely think that the Americans got a little "Emerald City" when they built the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. It seemed like they wanted all the amenities of a resort even though it's supposed to be a diplomatic office in a war torn country.

As for its symbolism, I think there are plenty of Iraqis that look at it as a sign of American power, which it's supposed to be anyway. There are probably lots of people outside Iraq who were opposed to the war who see it the same way. I tend to just see it as a wreck, and a perfect symbol of things that the U.S. did wrong trying to rebuild Iraq.

As for Pipes' idea that Iraq's politicians are in America's pocket, I see no evidence of that. If the on-going dispute over finishing off the government shows anything it's that Iraq's political class are driven by bitter personal rivalries dating back decades. If they were in America's pocket they would've completed the government months ago and given the U.S. a green light to maintain troops past 2011, and that simply hasn't happened yet.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi said...

Thanks for that Joel. Perhaps what Pipes means in describing the likes of Jalal Talabani as Washington's 'kept politicians' is that undoubtedly some U.S. aid ends up in their pockets through corruption. Incidentally, as you may remember from my article 'Iraq and the Middle Eastern Cold War', I used to be prone to seeing too much of what goes on in my homeland through external forces (i.e. American influence, Iraq as Iranian 'satrap' etc.), but as you say, the most important issues are the power struggles and personal rivalries between Iraq's politicians.

On related note, I had wanted to ask whether you have written anything vis-à-vis the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq stationed in Iraq. Pipes sees this as a sign of Iranian influence on the country at http://www.danielpipes.org/9790/iraq-province-of-iran. I disagree with this of course at http://www.hudson-ny.org/2047/mujahideen-e-khalq.

More specifically, I wonder if you have any thoughts on this exchange at http://www.danielpipes.org/comments/185135. If you have any important source material, may I forward it to Pipes?

Joel Wing said...

Aymenn I have never written on the MEK. Iran does want them gone, many Iraqi politicians don't care about them and some are openly hostile to them. They have provided some key intelligence to the U.S. on Iran. On the other hand, in the 1970s they attacked and killed U.S. military personnel who were working with the Iranian military under the Shah. Again, if Iran was so powerful in Iraq, then Baghdad would have shut down this camp years ago, and yet there it still is.

Security In Iraq May 15-21, 2024

The Islamic State and the Iraqi Islamic Resistance were both active in Iraq during the third week of May.