Tuesday, July 29, 2008

$120 billion effort to rebuild Iraq still lags

WASHINGTON - Iraq's coffers are bulging with oil money, yet some Baghdad residents go without electricity for much of the day and others get drinking water tainted with sewage.

"They don't need more money," said Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. "But they are having a difficult time, apparently, spending the money that they have."

Bowen Wednesday is releasing his quarterly report to Congress on efforts to rebuild Iraq's shattered nation — a program now expected to spend $117.79 billion.

Aided by money from a postwar record in oil production, Iraq itself is now set to spend an amount almost equal to the U.S. share, the report says. As of the end of the quarter on June 30, the U.S. has appropriated $50.46 billion, the Iraqis are contributing $50.33 billion and international donors have pledged $17 billion.

Bowen said that on a number of fronts, Iraq made progress in the last quarter toward standing on its own — a key to bringing home U.S. troops.

Amid improved security, the Iraq economy has continued to expand and essential services to residents have improved somewhat.

"But they remain uneven and are not adequate to meet current demand," the 270-page report said. "Improved security across the country has helped reduce attacks on oil pipelines, and the electricity sector's expanded operations and maintenance programs have helped increase production."

Problems with water and sewer services
The government of Iraq still struggles to develop effective water and sewer services.

"Emblematic of this struggle is the fact that two-thirds of the raw sewage produced in Baghdad flows untreated into rivers and waterways," the report said. Sewage water is mixing with tap water in several areas of Baghdad, experts say.

The Iraqi government also is still far from its goal of achieving political reconciliation; and it lacks some skills to run the government, the report says.

"They obviously have made enormous economic progress by virtue of improving their oil sector and they've made significant security progress," Bowen said in an interview.

"However on the governance and political front, there are still hurdles," he said, naming the need to pass an oil law and hold provincial elections.

And they are still having trouble executing their budgets at the national level and particularly in the provinces.

"For progress to really occur across Iraq, they're going to have to remedy that," Bowen said.

There was no figure available for how much of the allocated Iraqi money had been spent. Of the $17 billion pledged internationally, only $2.5 billion had been disbursed. And at of the end of the quarter, the U.S. had spent $33.28 billion of the more than $50 billion Congress appropriated, Bowen said.

Taxpayers not getting money's worth
He said American taxpayers did not always get their money's worth.

One success story was a $34 million project that built a system of ditches, berms, fences and other security to protect pipelines from attacks.

"The success of the program is evident in the fact that there have been no successful attacks on northern oil lines this year," the report said, noting that contributed to the increased oil production.