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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

02 August 2006

U.S. Official Says Violence, Corruption Hinder Iraq Rebuilding

"Reversing the deteriorating security situation" is the chief challenge

Washington -- Despite some progress, violence and corruption continue to thwart reconstruction efforts in Iraq, says Stuart Bowen, the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

“Reversing the deteriorating security situation,” is the chief challenge facing efforts to rebuild Iraq, Bowen told the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs during an August 2 hearing.

Repeated violence and “incessant danger” continue to impede reconstruction efforts, Bowen reported.  The “lethal environment” slows progress on projects, restricts movement of personnel and diverts dwindling resources from reconstruction, he said.  It also has “greatly complicated the important work of the provincial reconstruction teams to build capacity in the provincial governments,” he added.

Corruption continues to be “a serious threat” to Iraq’s fledgling democracy and costs an estimated $4 billion a year, Bowen said.

Iraq’s Commission for Public Integrity has more than 1,400 criminal cases involving about $5 billion, he reported.

“A poll conducted this quarter,” he added, “found that one-third of Iraqis reported that they have paid bribes for products or services this year, and that they mistrust police and the army.”

Bowen said that his office -- known as SIGUR, for Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction – has 82 open investigations into alleged fraud, corruption, bribery, kickbacks and gratuities.  Currently, 25 cases are awaiting prosecution at the Department of Justice; two of those cases have ended with convictions, and another has resulted in a guilty plea, he said.

SIGUR recently entered into a partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Criminal Investigations Division to enhance investigative operations in Iraq and the United States, Bowen said in prepared testimony for the Senate panel.

SIGUR, Bowen said, has seen “some positive signs” in the Iraqi prime minister’s recent commitment to battle corruption and in a World Bank-sponsored anti-corruption workshop for Iraqis and international donors.  But he cautioned:   “More resources and stronger support will be needed for Iraq’s nascent anti-corruption entities to battle corruption effectively.”

The production of electricity, oil and gas finally has climbed above pre-war levels for the first time in more than a year, Bowen said.  But he stressed the need for capacity building.

“The fall of Saddam’s regime ended four decades of a state-controlled economy, this has left inexperienced local officials to manage the delivery of provincial government services and created the need for programs to develop their capacities,” Bowen said.

The Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) program is helping local officials to develop “a sustained capacity” to govern and promote security, rule of law, political participation and economic development, Bowen said.  But it, too, is hindered by security threats, insufficient staffing and limited resources, he said.  SIGUR has announced an audit of the PRT program, he added.

Three years into the reconstruction effort, agencies responsible for rebuilding Iraq still need better coordination, Bowen said.  “The Iraq Reconstruction Management Office (IRMO) has responsibility for setting priorities, coordinating among agencies, centralizing reporting and managing ministry advisors, but has yet to bring all agencies together.  It should be empowered to do so,” he said.

Bowen said a recent “significant development” was the Iraqi government’s request to the United Nations for help in negotiating a financial compact with the international donor community.

“The goal of the compact,” Bowen explained, “is to build a framework to transform Iraq’s economy and integrate it into the regional and global economy.

“Success in negotiating the compact would energize the next phase of reconstruction,” he said.

The text (PDF, 8 pages) of Bowen’s prepared remarks is available on the Web site of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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