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article imageReport: Conditions remain dire in Iraq, more funding necessary

By Lynn Herrmann     Feb 1, 2011 in Politics
Washington - As US scale-back operations begin in Iraq, a new report states the country's current instability will worsen, the result of large-scale corruption and lack of basic services such as water and electricity, leading to the necessity for additional funding.
The 156-page report, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress (pdf), predicts a bleak outlook for Iraq’s future, with instability the rule, forcing tough decisions upon President Barack Obama as he prepares for another election campaign.
That instability covers all areas of Iraq, from its government, legal structure and economy to basic services, including water and electricity. For instance, the Fallujah Sewer System, a $29.6 million project, is severely behind schedule due to “design complexity, a lack of available skilled labor, and security issues.”
This is but one example, the report notes, of why the Government of Iraq (GOI) will have difficulty reaching its goal of safe drinking water for 91 percent of Iraqi households by 2015. Other factors include prolonged drought conditions and neglect and mismanagement of the country’s public water and sanitation operations.
An inattention to basic needs is a major issue for the country, as the report states:
“According to a recently released DoS report, the lack of sufficient basic services will be the most likely cause of future instability in Iraq.”
All of this, and more, could lead to the possibility of a renegotiated Security Agreement between the US and Iraq, allowing a larger military presence to remain beyond the December 31, 2011 deadline.
In his message to the report, Stuart Bowen, Jr., Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), stated:
“Although the last troops may withdraw from Iraq in December 2011, the Department of State will still maintain a significant reconstruction presence there for years to come, requiring sustained oversight and engagement to watch over what remains of the $58 billion reconstruction program.”
That those troops “may withdraw” is yet to be determined, for while the US-Iraq Security Agreement (SA) calls for all US military forces to be withdrawn from the war-ravaged country by December 31, 2011, that is not unconditional. As the report states:
“Maintaining a more sizeable military presence in Iraq would require the United States to renogotiate the terms of the SA with the Government of Iraq (GOI).”
A special feature of the report, Focus on Basrah, centers on oil. Four “globally significant” oil fields are located just north and west of Basrah and hold more than 80 billion barrels of proven reserves, “more than half of Iraq’s oil wealth.”
Although the report cites relative stability in Basrah, it notes recent car bombings, as reported by Reuters, and sporadic attacks at Basrah Int’l Airport last November and December as being issues that could impact foreign investment there.
Basrah’s unemployment currently stands at 25 percent, and for recent university graduates, the number is closer to 50 percent. Of those Basrah residents (Basrawis) who are employed, 35 percent work for the government and 20 percent are involved in agriculture.
By comparison, almost a third of Basrah province’s population lives below the poverty level of $2.20 per day.
Electrical outages remain a constant, not just in Basrah, but throughout the country, especially in summer months when temperatures climb above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. For the people of Iraq, the possibility of “severe electricity shortages” is likely to occur again as warmer weather approaches. For the oil industry, there are no worries, as the SIGIR report states:
“Industrial requirements for oil facilities, water plants, and hospitals take precedence over residential needs.”
Another issue of concern is the Rule of Law category. The report noted widespread public unrest over prisoner treatment in Iraq’s correctional facilities; that unrest is reported as “very unstable” in all 18 Iraqi provinces and worries are that corruption could spark an engaged unrest, as is currently being experienced in other parts of the Middle East.
The report also notes that, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at least 1.5 million Iraqis remain displaced inside the country. UNHCR has also documented 197,996 Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, but actual numbers of refugees across the region is unknown.
These internally displaced persons and refugees (IDPs) have chosen not to return to their places of origin for several reasons. Among them, their homes were destroyed or have been occupied by others; there is a lack of essential services; and an ongoing real or perceived threat of violence in their old neighborhoods.
The ongoing financial drain of the US occupation to its taxpayers is prevalent in the report and corruption in the country is not limited to the Iraqi government. For instance:
“SIGIR has identified a total of $586.62 million that could be used more efficiently and effectively if used elsewhere. For example, this quarter SIGIR identified $12 million planned to furnish and equip the Iraqi International Academy that would be better spent elsewhere because the GOI has not made a commitment to fund the operation and maintenance of the Academy.”
A detailed discussion of the Iraqi International Academy and those $12 million can be found on p.107 of the report.
Of that $586.62 million mentioned above, another $112.63 million in payments to contractors and grant recipients is questioned by SIGIR because:
“the costs claimed were not supported by adequate documentation, such as receipts or invoices; were unallowable under government regulations; were unreasonably high; or were not allocable to the project.”
In addition to the dire situation reported on throughout the country, the SIGIR Investigations beginning on p.118 of the report provides valuable information on the high level of corruption within the US military and US-funded contractors who have been operating in Iraq. That corruption covers a broad spectrum including, but not limited to, conspiracy to defraud, bribery, money laundering, theft, wire fraud, kickbacks and interstate transport of stolen property.
Construction delays were another issue in the report. For instance, Basrah Children’s Hospital opened in October 2010, five years behind schedule and offers “basic pediatric medical services.” Oncology services are still months away. The cost of the hospital, to date, is $165 million.
As of December 31, 2010, US-funded education projects in Iraq numbered 1,166. During fiscal year 2010 alone, $18.2 million in CERP funding was spent on education projects. Another $18.3 million funded during FY2010 was “still in process at the beginning of this quarter.”
SIGIR reports US-funded health care costs in Iraq for this quarter to be $24.2 million.
Of the many telling statements helping provide an analysis of the situation unavailable in mainstream coverage of the country, the report noted:
“The U.S. faces the choice of making additional investments to fill essential gaps in Iraqi security forces capabilities or accept the risk that they will fall short of being able to fully secure Iraq from internal and external threats by the time U.S. forces depart.”
More about Iraq, Sigir report, Instability
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