Past Failures and Future Transitions in Iraqi Reconstruciton
March 3, 2010
Outside aid has been critical in largely defeating the insurgency and in helping Iraq recover from the impact of the invasion in 2003 and the civil conflicts that followed. It has also helped mitigate the impact of previous decades of war, civil conflict, and misrule. At the same time, much of that aid has gone to waste, distorted Iraq’s economy, or left a legacy of projects Iraq does not need or cannot afford to support. From the onset, U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq were overly ambitious, disjointed and poorly planned. As the Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction puts it:
The U.S. government had neither the established structure nor the necessary resources to carry out the reconstruction mission it took on in mid-2003.The overuse of cost-plus contracts, high contractor overhead expenses, excessive contractor award fees, and unacceptable program and project delays all contributed to a significant waste of taxpayer dollars.
Both the poor security situation and the Iraqi government’s lack of capacity have factored into the inefficiencies of reconstruction operations; however, SIGIR is all too correct in assessing that the United States is largely responsible for the waste and mismanagement that hindered these operations. As SIGIR describes in painful detail, U.S. efforts have been driven by
- the dramatic and frequently reactive course-changes in reconstruction strategy,
- the turbulence engendered by constant personnel turnover at every level,
- the waste caused by inadequate contracting and program management practices, and
- the poor integration of interagency efforts caused by weak unity of command and inconsistent unity of effort.
The United States and Iraq cannot force a strategic partnership that ignores these realities, particularly given the challenges Iraq faces in politics, governance, and security. Iraq, the United States, and other foreign donors must now try to make sense out of past efforts at Iraqi reconstruction and the government of Iraq must determine what now must be done to fund development and reconstruction in future years.
The United States must recognize the failures in past efforts and draft a series of detailed plans that will shift the nature of reconstruction away from aid-driven activities to programs that are largely Iraqi-led and Iraqi-funded. This requires the U.S. government to do more than issue reports from SIGIR and the General Accountability Office. The U.S. State Department and other civil departments must become operational enough to act on their suggestions – and they must have the financial resources and personnel to carry out additional responsibilities once U.S. armed forces leave the country.
These issues are addressed in the new report from the Burke Chair titled "Past Failures and Future Transitions in Iraqi Reconstruciton".
This report is available on the CSIS web site at: http://csis.org/files/publication/100303_IraqiReconstruction.pdf.