Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Your Tax Dollars at Work

The media has been unable to hide the grim facts that surround the bungled occupation of Iraq due to the high death tolls of both Americans and Iraqis. The thousands of car bombs that have taken place thus far this year are also difficult to shove underneath the carpet.

What has been effectively hidden is the bungled reconstruction effort in Iraq, which is turning into an endless rathole into which US taxpayer money is being poured directly into the pockets of Bush campaign contributers, ready to be wasted, embezzled, and then flipped into the next GOP campaign. Meanwhile, the billions of dollars that have already been drained from our treasury are accomplishing very little for the Iraqi people.

It's gotten to be so corrupt that the Iraqi government itself is beginning to act, begging nations other than the United States to do something and do it right, finally shaming the media to cover the corporate swindle that's taking place in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times today tells the shameful story (as does the New York Times - both stories are worth a glance).

AQABA, Jordan — In language both sharp and subtle, Iraqi and international officials on Monday criticized the U.S.-led rebuilding effort for moving too slowly to improve the lives of Iraqi citizens.Meeting for a donors conference at this Jordanian resort town sandwiched between desert cliffs and the placid Red Sea, the officials announced the expected approval of $4 billion in loans from Japan and the World Bank to help speed reconstruction.

They said the United States' $18.4-billion effort had fallen short of restoring essential services such as power, water and sanitation. The criticism reflected a growing belief in Iraq and elsewhere that the Bush administration had bungled the reconstruction by giving billions to private corporations to tackle major infrastructure projects.

"It is now clear that these mega projects, though essential, have not succeeded in providing quickly enough for Iraqis' basic needs," said Barham Salih, Iraq's minister of planning and development cooperation. "Iraqis throughout the country remain dissatisfied."

The State Department, in a little-noticed report released this month, acknowledged the necessity of "adjusting [U.S.] support" to improve the reconstruction plan.

More than $6 billion in U.S. funds and billions more in Iraqi money have been spent so far, but the country's electricity supply is far from meeting demand; oil production is below prewar levels; and barely half of Iraqis report having access to safe, stable supplies of drinking water.

Unemployment is estimated at between 25% and 50%; fuel and food subsidies have resulted in a significant budget deficit; U.S. and Iraqi audits have been unable to account for billions in spending; and at least three U.S. officials and scores of Iraqis, including two former government ministers, are facing corruption charges.

In addition, more than 350 contractors working on reconstruction have been killed; scores have been kidnapped. Insurgents have also targeted Iraqi civilians working with U.S. firms.

At Monday's conference, the World Bank announced final approval of $500 million in loans. Iraq, meanwhile, said it had agreed in principle to another $3.5 billion in loans from Japan.

Although couching criticism in diplomatic language, officials from the World Bank and the U.N. made it clear that the international community's $13.5-billion rebuilding effort would differ from the U.S. approach.

The United States in early 2004 awarded contracts to a handful of U.S.-based multinational firms such as Halliburton Co., Bechtel Corp. and Perini Corp. for massive infrastructure projects such as building power plants, hospitals and clinics and refurbishing water treatment facilities.

But many of the firms have had difficulty completing projects in the face of insurgent attacks, logistical difficulties and complicated U.S. contracting guidelines. At least one contractor, Contrack International Inc., has pulled out. Perini and Pasadena-based Parsons Corp. have had jobs taken away from them over concerns about rising costs.

The international officials said they had learned from the U.S. experience and would rely on Iraqi contractors. Besides being cheaper, Iraqi contractors often face fewer security concerns, said Michael Bell, a Canadian official overseeing part of the international reconstruction effort.

Bell said about 2% of World Bank and U.N. project costs are for security. The U.S. estimate for security costs is 16% to 22%.

"We can't afford to sit and wait," Bell said. "There are rather urgent needs."


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