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Report finds violence, poor planning hurt reconstruction projects

WASHINGTON—Billions of dollars earmarked for rebuilding war-torn Iraq have been diverted from reconstruction projects because of insurgent violence and poor planning by the United States, a new report concluded Thursday.

Many reconstruction projects in Iraq won't be completed because of inadequate planning and underestimated security needs, according to a new report Thursday.

The assessment by Stuart W. Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, says millions of dollars have had to be diverted from much-needed water, sewerage and electrical projects to help cover the costs of providing security and combating a consistent and aggressive insurgency.

"The Iraq insurgency has directly affected the cost of reconstruction projects, increased the cost of materials, and created project delays," the report says.

In an interactive online forum on Thursday, James Jeffrey, senior adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and coordinator for Iraq policy, said that it was important to put Iraq's reconstruction in context.

"Iraq's development potential was wasted over a generation of wars and bad governance," he wrote. " ... Rebuilding Iraq's economy will take considerable effort, but Iraq has already made progress. ... Most of our large infrastructure projects will be completed over the course of 2006, and we will also spend most of the yet undisbursed assistance money (around $8.4 billion of the total) over that period."

But Bowen's report highlights reconstruction efforts that in some cases weren't well-developed, were delayed or were halted altogether to divert money to more pressing areas.

"Although significant progress has been made in developing Iraq's infrastructure, the United States will not complete all of the projects it originally planned to construct through its Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund," the report says.

For example, only 49 of 136 projects in the water resources and sanitation area will be finished, according to the report. About 300 of 425 planned electrical projects will be completed, lowering the power-generating goal for the country from 3,400 megawatts to 2,109, according to the report.

"Unstable conditions on the ground forced planners to reallocate $5.6 billion (of the $18.4 billion appropriated) in Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund money from their original purposes. In addition, unbudgeted administrative costs of reconstruction fund implementing agencies were responsible for $400.6 million in project changes.

"The biggest change is reallocation to support development of Iraq's security forces," the report says. "(Department of State) officials have reported that the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) envisioned a much more permissive security environment than that experienced in 2004 and 2005."

But the insurgency wasn't the only reason for scaling back projects. Some reconstruction plans were "hurriedly put together with little knowledge of actual conditions at proposed project sites," the report says.

The Coalition Provisional Authority, for example, which ran the country before sovereignty was returned to Iraqis, "significantly underestimated the damage done to basic infrastructure" of Iraq "from decades of neglect and warfare, and as a result, more time and resources are required to stand-up and maintain systems than originally thought."

In one case, Iraq's Ministry of Education was forced to revise its estimate of the number of schools that needed rehabilitating from 930 to 1,047 after inspecting nearly half the schools in nine provinces.


(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.