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Iraqis inherit a country that's crumbling
by SETH BORENSTEIN FREE PRESS WASHINGTON STAFF
Detroit Free Press
June 30, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Despite $13.7 billion in reconstruction spending so far, the Iraq that the United States handed back Monday is worse off than before the war in key ways, including electrical output, the judicial system and overall security, according to a new report by the General Accounting Office.

The 105-page report released Tuesday by Congress' investigative arm offers a bleak assessment of Iraq after 14 months of U.S. military occupation. Among its findings:

*Electricity was available fewer hours per day on average last month than before the war started in 13 of Iraq's 18 provinces. Nearly 20 million of Iraq's 26 million people live in the affected provinces.
*Only $13.7 billion of the $58 billion worldwide pledged and allocated to rebuild Iraq has been spent, with another $10 billion about to be spent. The biggest chunk of that money has been used to run Iraq's ministry operations.
*The country's court system is more clogged than before the war, and judges are frequent targets of assassination attempts.
*The new Iraqi civil defense, police and overall security units are poorly trained, ill-equipped and suffering from mass desertions.
*The number of what the now-disbanded Coalition Provisional Authority called significant insurgent attacks skyrocketed from 411 in February to 1,169 in May.

The report was released on the same day that the Coalition Provisional Authority's inspector general issued three reports that highlighted serious management difficulties at the authority, which dissolved Monday with the transfer of power to the interim Iraqi government.

Both reports found that the authority wasted millions of dollars at a Hilton resort hotel in Kuwait, because it didn't have written guidelines for who could stay there and lost track of how many employees it had. It also didn't track reconstruction projects funded by international donors to ensure they didn't duplicate what the United States was doing.

The reports also said that the authority was seriously understaffed for the gargantuan task of rebuilding Iraq. The GAO report suggested the agency needed three times more employees than it had. The authority report put its number of employees at 1,196, when it was authorized to have 2,117. But the inspector general said the coalition's records were so disorganized that it couldn't verify its actual number of employees.

GAO Comptroller General David Walker blamed insurgent attacks for many of the problems.

"The unstable security environment has served to slow down our rebuilding and reconstruction efforts and it's going to be of critical importance to provide more stable security," Walker said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

The GAO report is the first government assessment of conditions in Iraq at the end of the U.S. occupation, outlining what it called "key challenges that will affect the political transition" in 10 specific areas.

The report said the GAO gave a draft of the report to several government agencies but that only the Coalition Provisional Authority offered a major comment. The authority said the report "was not sufficiently critical of the judicial reconstruction effort."

Peter Singer, a national security scholar at the centrist Brookings Institution, said one of the biggest problems is that despite the availability of reconstruction funds, not much has been spent. The GAO report shows that very little of the promised international funds -- most of which are in loans -- has been spent and that some of it can't be tracked. The Coalition Provisional Authority's inspector general found the same thing.

Steven Susens, a spokesman for the Program Management Office, which oversees contractors rebuilding Iraq, conceded that many areas of Iraq have fewer hours of electricity than they did before the war. But he said the report, based on data now more than a month old, understates current electrical production and that some areas may have seen a reduced availability of electricity because antiquated distribution systems had been taken out of service so they could be rebuilt.

"It's a slow pace, but it's certainly growing," Susens said.

Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said other issues are more important than the provision of electricity.

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