Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Khan Bani Saad Prison, The Greatest Failure In America’s Reconstruction Of Iraq

The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) called the Khan Bani Saad Prison in Diyala province, “The single greatest project failure in the U.S. reconstruction program [in Iraq].” Started in 2004 as part of a plan to fix the poor conditions and overcrowding in the prisons in the province, the Khan Bani Saad facility ran into one problem after another. The original contractor, Parsons Corporation, failed to meet its schedule, and left a partially built prison when the U.S. government ended its deal in June 2007. The job was then turned over to two Iraqi and one American firm that did just as bad a job before their contracts were terminated as well. What was left was an empty, multi-million dollar building that the Iraqis have never used.
The Kahn Bani Saad Prison, abandoned by the Iraqis and still half built in 2008 (AP)
The Khan Bani Saad Prison was one of many failures by the Parsons Corporation to fulfill its work in Iraq. Originally, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) gave Parsons a contract to build several prisons in northern Iraq. In May 2004, the company signed a $72.9 million contract to construct Khan Bani Saad to hold 1,800 prisoners. The work was supposed to begin right away, and be finished by November 2005. Immediately, the project ran into trouble. First, Parsons didn’t get under way until November 2004, five months late. Second, there was poor security, and some very shoddy work. The firm missed its deadline, and then in June 2006, told the U.S. government that the prison would not be completed until September 2008, and cost an additional $13.5 million. That would make Khan Bani Saad over three years behind schedule. Parsons blamed a lack of security for its problems. In August 2005 for instance, its site manager was killed in his office. The Army Corps of Engineers, however, which was in charge of the contract, claimed that the company knew about its work environment before it signed the deal. The Corps said that Parsons only reported 76 days where it could not work, because of violence. An officer from the Corps also told the New York Times, that the firm’s September 2008 finish date was unrealistic, because it had stopped work in April 2006. As a result, Parsons’ contract with the Corps was cancelled. It charged Parsons with not following its schedule and running into huge cost overruns, both of which the U.S. stated were under the company’s control. At the time, the Army Corps of Engineers found that only 40% of the work had been finished. Still, the corporation was paid $31 million. At the same time, the company's $99.1 million contract to build prisons in northern Iraq was terminated as well. The previous month, it lost a $234 million deal to build and repair hospitals and health clinics too. In total, Parsons received $333 million for its reconstruction work. $142 million of that was for projects like Kahn Bani Saad, which had been cut or cancelled. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found almost all of Parsons’ work to be over budget, late, and shoddy. The Kahn Bani Saad Prison was not only symbolic of how poorly it did in Iraq, but of many other companies that signed huge deals to rebuild the country, but failed to deliver.

The United States was not done with the prison however. In September 2006, it gave out three new work orders; two to Iraqi companies, and one to an American one to finish the job Parsons had failed to do. Those were worth $44 million. In May 2007, an engineering assessment was done of their work. It found that the facility was still only partially completed, and what was done was of poor quality. That led the U.S. to terminate the contracts. The next month, the site was permanently shut down. Only 52% of the prison was done. The follow up companies proved just as bad as Parsons had been. The construction was still not up to par, and most importantly Kahn Bani Saad was not finished three years after the initial deal was signed.

That was not the end of the fiasco the prison had become. On August 1, 2007, the partially completed facility was turned over to the Iraqi government. The Deputy Minister of Justice refused to accept it. He said that his Ministry had no plans to complete or use it. At the same time, $1.2 million in material, such as fencing, gravel, pipes, etc., were left at the site unguarded. The Iraqis seemed to know what the Americans were not willing to accept, Kahn Bani Saad had turned into a running joke. No matter what the U.S. tried to do with it, the prison was a failure. The Iraqis were right not to take it since it would still take millions to finish, and what was done, was pretty much unusable anyway.

In June 2008, members of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction visited Kahn Bani Saad. It found no one at the site since the Iraqis refused the prison. As a result, most of the $1.2 million in material left behind was missing. The following SIGIR audit found that some of the building was done so poorly that demolition was the only solution. It believed that the prison could never be used as a result. Iraqis seemed to agree. Local officials in Diyala didn’t know what to do with the empty prison, and didn’t think it could be repurposed. At the same time, Parsons was ranked the worst contractor out of seven the Inspector General had investigated. It called Kahn Bani Saad the biggest waste of money the U.S. had made in its attempt to rebuild Iraq.

Kahn Bani Saad is a perfect example of the problems that the United States ran into trying to reconstruction Iraq. The Americans came up with plans for expanding Diyala’s prisons without consulting Iraqis. They contracted an American company that appeared completely out of its element. Not only that, it did a sorry job. When its deal was terminated, three more firms were brought in who did no better. What was left was a scar on the landscape. A huge, unfinished prison that cost tens of millions of dollars that could never be used. Too many projects ended up like Kahn Bani Saad. The U.S. failed at planning for post-war Iraq before the 2003 invasion. Afterward, there was a lack of coordination between the various government agencies that were supposed to carry out the reconstruction effort, not to mention little consultation with Iraqis over what they wanted and needed. The result was an overall failure to put Iraq back together again, the repercussions of which are still being felt to this day.


CBS News, “Empty Iraq Prison A “Monument” To Waste,” 2/11/09

Glanz, James, “Army Cancels Contract for Iraqi Prison,” New York Times, 6/20/06

Puzzanghera, Jim and Spiegel, Peter, “Audit details contract failures,” Los Angeles Times, 7/29/08

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Hard Lessons, 1/22/09
- “Kahn Bani Saad Correctional Facility Kahn Bani Saad, Iraq,” 6/25/08

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