|Iraq is worse off than before the war began, GAO reports
By Seth Borenstein
Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON - In a few key areas - electricity, the judicial system and
overall security - the Iraq that America handed back to its residents Monday
is worse off than before the war began last year, according to calculations
in a new General Accounting Office report released Tuesday.
The 105-page report by Congress' investigative arm offers a bleak assessment
of Iraq after 14 months of U.S. military occupation. Among its findings:
-In 13 of Iraq's 18 provinces, electricity was available fewer hours per day
on average last month than before the war. Nearly 20 million of Iraq's 26
million people live in those provinces.
-Only $13.7 billion of the $58 billion pledged and allocated worldwide to
rebuild Iraq has been spent, with another $10 billion about to be spent. The
biggest chunk of that money has been used to run Iraq's ministry operations.
-The country's court system is more clogged than before the war, and judges
are frequent targets of assassination attempts.
-The new Iraqi civil defense, police and overall security units are
suffering from mass desertions, are poorly trained and ill-equipped.
-The number of what the now-disbanded Coalition Provisional Authority called
significant insurgent attacks skyrocketed from 411 in February to 1,169 in
The report was released on the same day that the CPA's inspector general
issued three reports that highlighted serious management difficulties at the
CPA. The reports found that the CPA wasted millions of dollars at a Hilton
resort hotel in Kuwait because it didn't have guidelines for who could stay
there, lost track of how many employees it had in Iraq and didn't track
reconstruction projects funded by international donors to ensure they didn't
duplicate U.S. projects.
Both the GAO report and the CPA report said that the CPA was seriously
understaffed for the gargantuan task of rebuilding Iraq. The GAO report
suggested the agency needed three times more employees than what it had. The
CPA report said the agency believed it had 1,196 employees, when it was
authorized to have 2,117. But the inspector general said CPA's records were
so disorganized that it couldn't verify its actual number of employees.
GAO Comptroller General David Walker blamed insurgent attacks for many of
the problems in Iraq. "The unstable security environment has served to slow
down our rebuilding and reconstruction efforts and it's going to be of
critical importance to provide more stable security," Walker told Knight
Ridder Newspapers in a telephone interview Tuesday.
"There are a number of significant questions that need to be asked and
answered dealing with the transition (to self-sovereignty)," Walker said. "A
lot has been accomplished and a lot remains to be done."
The GAO report is the first government assessment of conditions in Iraq at
the end of the U.S. occupation. It outlined what it called "key challenges
that will affect the political transition" in 10 specific areas.
The GAO gave a draft of the report to several different government agencies,
but only the CPA offered a major comment: It said the report "was not
sufficiently critical of the judicial reconstruction effort."
"The picture it paints of the facts on the ground is one that neither the
CPA nor the Bush administration should be all that proud of," said Peter W.
Singer, a national security scholar at the centrist Brookings Institution.
"It finds a lot of problems and raises a lot of questions."
One of the biggest problems, Singer said, is that while money has been
pledged and allocated, not much has been spent. The GAO report shows that
very little of the promised international funds - most of which are in
loans - has been spent or can't be tracked. The CPA's inspector general
found the same thing.
"When we ask why are things not going the way we hoped for," Singer said,
"the answer in part of this is that we haven't actually spent what we have
He said the figures on electricity "make me want to cry."
Steven Susens, a spokesman for the Program Management Office, which oversees
contractors rebuilding Iraq, conceded that many areas of Iraq have fewer
hours of electricity now than they did before the war. But he said the
report, based on data that's now more than a month old, understates current
electrical production. He said some areas may have reduced electricity
availability because antiquated distribution systems had been taken out of
service so they could be rebuilt.
"It's a slow pace, but it's certainly growing as far as we're concerned,"
Danielle Pletka, the vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at
the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said other issues are more
important than the provision of services such as electricity. She noted that
Iraqis no longer live in fear of Saddam Hussein.
"It's far better to live in the dark than it is to run the risk that your
mother, father, brother, sister, husband or wife would be taken away never
to be seen again," Pletka said.
Pletka pointed to a Pentagon slide presentation that detailed increases and
improvement in telephone subscribers, water service, food, health care and
schools in Iraq.
But Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee that asked for the GAO report, said the report showed
"So while we've handed over political sovereignty, we haven't handed over
practical capacity - that is, the ability for the Iraqis themselves to
provide security, defend their borders, defeat the insurgency, deliver basic
services, run a government and set the foundation for economic progress,"
Biden said in a written statement. "Until Iraqis can do all of that, it will
be impossible for us to responsibly disengage from Iraq."
The GAO report can be found at