Monday, May 01, 2006

Rebuilding Iraq: A Progress Report

Today's Washington Post has an article citing the recently released report from the office of Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general in charge of the reconstruction of Iraq. As should be expected at this point, the report is mixed.

On the negative side of the ledger, "the lack of basic services [in Iraq] has been a source of intense frustration among Iraqis, many of whom have said they expected a substantial upgrade following the U.S. invasion in 2003. Across Iraq, key areas of infrastructure -- such as water and sewage, the oil industry and electricity -- operate at or below prewar levels." Furthermore, Bowen notes that three years of projects, funded by $18 billion of US funding, has been marked by "shortfalls and deficiencies." Furthermore, "efforts to protect oil and electrical infrastructure 'ultimately proved to be unsuccessful,' despite $147 million spent to train more than 20,000 Iraqis to guard pipelines and power plants." Bowen also noted "a gaping shortfall in the number of health clinics built nationwide, a situation described in a Washington Post report a month ago. With $186 million spent, contractor Parsons Global has completed only six clinics and is projected to finish just another 14 of about 150 that had been contracted, the audit said."

The coalition of the willing assembled by President Bush hasn't been living up to its name, as "of more than $13 billion pledged by international donors at a conference on reconstruction held in Madrid in 2003, less than $4 billion has been delivered."

On the plus side, attacks against Iraqi infrastructure targets has declined by 60% since January, thanks in no small part due to the improving capabilities of Iraqi armed and police forces. However, that statistic is probably misleading, as the insurgency has turned its attention towards softer targets in hopes of disrupting the nascent political process. This is the only positive mention in the Post article, but Bowen sees it as perhaps the most important metric, noting that "despite certain setbacks, chiefly caused by security problems, the overall picture conveys a sense of substantial progress in the relief, recovery and reconstruction of Iraq."

We can only hope Bowen is correct that security is what matters most to the success of Iraq. If people believe that the future is brighter than the present and that they need not worry about whether they or their children will survive the day, the rebuilding of Iraq has a chance to work.

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