Ed Harriman

Ed Harriman is a journalist and television documentary film-maker.

Burn Rate: The Iraq Disaster

Ed Harriman, 6 September 2007

As General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, prepares to report to Congress on 15 September on the success of George Bush’s ‘surge’, Bush himself is trying hard to talk it up and to discredit the policy of withdrawal. In a speech on 22 August to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention, he resorted to the new and risky strategy of using the example of the US withdrawal from Vietnam to support his position on Iraq. ‘Then as now, people argued the real problem was America’s presence,’ he said, but ‘one unmistakeable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens.’ He went on to stress, as he often does, that withdrawal would be seen as victory by al-Qaida, and that ‘unlike in Vietnam . . . this enemy will follow us home.’

Iraq has run out of reconstruction money. The funds in the so-called Development Fund for Iraq – some $20 billion of Iraqi money – were spent by Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority in the first year of the occupation. The US Embassy in Baghdad has spent virtually all of the $18.4 billion that Congress appropriated for ‘rebuilding’ the country; $5.6 billion of it was used to run the embassy, promote American ‘values’ and set up the new armed forces and police. Most of the American money never even gets to Iraq. The bulk of it has gone to American consultants, or into American contractors’ international bank accounts. The Coalition has created and fostered the least accountable and least transparent regime in the Middle East.

There is a ‘reconstruction gap’ in Iraq. According to the US Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR), ‘in the coming year, the amount of money needed by the Iraqi government to carry out the daily operations of its existing health, water, oil and electrical infrastructure, as well as to complete and sustain planned reconstruction projects, will outstrip the available revenue.’ The US General Accountability Office (GAO) told Congress that the Iraqis still need ‘additional training and preparation to operate and maintain the power plants, water and sewage treatment facilities, and healthcare centres . . . to ensure that the billions of dollars . . . already invested in Iraq’s infrastructure are not wasted’.

“Pilfering was rife. Millions of dollars in cash went missing from the Iraqi Central Bank. Between $11 million and $26 million worth of Iraqi property sequestered by the CPA was unaccounted for. The payroll was padded with hundreds of ghost employees. Millions of dollars were paid to contractors for phantom work: $3,379,505 was billed, for example, for ‘personnel not in the field performing work’ and ‘other improper charges’ on a single oil pipeline repair contract. An Iraqi sports coach was paid $40,000 by the CPA. He gave it to a friend who gambled it away then wrote it off as a legitimate loss. ‘A complainant alleged that Iraqi Airlines was sold at a reduced price to an influential family with ties to the former regime. The investigation revealed that Iraqi Airlines was essentially dissolved, and there was no record of the transaction.’ Most of the 69 criminal investigations the CPA-IG instigated related to alleged ‘theft, fraud, waste, assault and extortion’. It also investigated ‘a number of other cases that, because of their sensitivity, cannot be included in this report’. At around this time, 19 billion new Iraqi dinars, worth about £6.5 million, were found on a plane in Lebanon which had been sent there by the American-appointed Iraqi interior minister.”

Few Western journalists saw much of the war in Iraq. Some were corralled in US central command headquarters in Qatar and dependent on Brigadier-General Vincent Brooks’s daily news briefings, some were stuck in Baghdad hotels under the protective wing of Saddam’s information minister, Muhammad al-Sahhaf, some were embedded with the coalition forces: they were all in different ways...

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