Friday, September 29, 2006

Iraq police college a symbol of failed U.S. plan

Iraq police college a symbol of failed U.S. plan
By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It was intended to showcase U.S. rebuilding efforts in Iraq, but instead Baghdad's new police academy was declared a health hazard by U.S. inspectors who found human waste dripping from the ceilings.

In a congressional hearing on Thursday, where even the Republican chair said the U.S. rebuilding effort was not a "pretty picture," the Baghdad Police College was held up as an example of how the $21 billion U.S. reconstruction plan for Iraq went wrong.

"Poor security, an arcane, ill-suited management structure and a dizzying cascade of setbacks," said committee chair Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, of the U.S. reconstruction program.

Democrats had much harsher words. "One doesn't know whether to call it the theater of the absurd or the chamber of horrors," Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, told the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform.

The chief U.S. inspector monitoring how U.S. funds are spent in Iraq, Stuart Bowen, recalled his recent visit to the police academy, which cost U.S. taxpayers $75 million, and said he was shocked by the unsanitary conditions there.

Wastewater plumbing installations were faulty and urine and fecal matter oozed through the ceilings, depositing itself in light fittings. In one room there was so much water dripping through that the college director called it a "rain forest."

With about 140,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, the training of Iraq's military and police is a key aim of the Bush administration, which says U.S. soldiers can come home only when Iraq's security forces can control the country.

"What could be a more important symbol than getting police trained for security and buildings which will give them a boost," said California Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat.


The police college contract was handed out to California firm Parsons which in turn subcontracted it to an Iraqi company. "It boils down to a lack of oversight," said Bowen of the problems with the police college.

Bowen's inspectors looked at 14 other projects Parsons was involved with in Iraq and found that 13 of those also did not meet standards. The only one that did was stopped because of cost over-runs.

Parsons Senior Vice President Earnest Robbins defended his company's performance in a chaotic security environment but conceded the challenges in Iraq had far surpassed anything the firm had predicted.

"It is with deep regret and frustration that these projects could not be finished as intended," he said.

He added the U.S. government shared some blame, pointing out it had taken up to 15 months in some instances for the government to identify what was to be built, where it should be constructed and what funding was available.

In late 2003, Congress allocated $18.4 billion to rebuild Iraq and immediately handed out giant contracts to a small number of big U.S. construction companies, drawing criticism for not giving work directly to Iraqi firms.

The State Department's senior advisor on Iraq, David Satterfield, said the U.S. government had learned from its mistakes and was adapting programs, now handing out more work to Iraqi firms.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office issued a report this week and said the Pentagon's own auditors had questioned $3.5 billion in unsupported charges for Iraqi reconstruction projects.

"When we break down this amount, it averages $2.7 million in overcharges each day we've been in Iraq. That's amazing," said Waxman, one of the Democratic Party's most vocal critics of Iraq rebuilding programs.