Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen Jr. gave a lecture at Westmont College last Thursday to discuss the continued presence and role of the U.S. in Iraq.
The SIGIR office manages finances for a number of U.S. programs — including the Iraq Security Forces Fund and Economic Support Fund — that have allocated more than $63 billion for the region’s redevelopment. According to a press release from Westmont College, the audits and inspections conducted by Bowen’s office have saved the U.S. government roughly $1.1 billion in restructuring aid.
Bowen said continued instability in Iraq reflects the U.S. government’s failure to plan and administrate reconstruction programs that accommodate the needs of the Iraqi people.
“Reconstruction is an extension of a political strategy,” Bowen said. “Our goal was to help the people, to win their hearts and minds. This shows how we didn’t do it right. [The] U.S. was not structured well for planning this. Programs should be geared to indigenous people, and that is the most important point.”
Since 2003 the SIGIR has uncovered over 56 incidents of fraud and other crimes through its financial inspections.
Part of the reconstruction programs’ setbacks stem from
corruption within military organizations responsible for distributing funding, Bowen said.
“Corruption mostly comes from U.S. military officers,” Bowen said. “The most expenditure spent was on security and training, and there was a program putting cash into Iraq. Temptation got the better part of them. For example, a Northern California marine and his wife got convicted of stealing $2 million.”
Iraq’s political instability is another obstacle to making positive changes, according to Bowen.
“I have been going there for the past seven years — 31 times,” Bowen said. “It is still a dangerous place to be. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad is the biggest embassy in the world, and the place is still attacked frequently, though it got better.”
Eric Massie, a UCSB History Dept. Ph.D. candidate, said U.S. policy should prioritize stabilizing the region before attempting to repair its infrastructure.
“While I agree with Mr. Bowen’s characterization of the ‘unique challenges’ of attempting reconstruction in a politically unstable country, U.S. policy should have focused entirely upon achieving security for Iraqis before they began reconstruction projects,” Massie said in an e-mail. “It seems naive to me to presume that Iraqis will be satisfied with marginally better living conditions when hundreds of thousands have died and continue to die due to poor security.”
According to Massie, former President George W. Bush’s decision to break up Iraq’s armed forces significantly hampered stabilization efforts.
“The single most important mistake of the Bush administration was Paul Bremer’s decision to disband the Iraqi military rather than to purge and employ it in stabilizing and reconstructing the country,” Massie said. “The Iraqi army could have provided the structure to keep hundreds of thousands of Iraqis employed either in promoting security or in a variety of infrastructural projects to improve the quality of life for Iraqis after the invasion.”
Bowen said the U.S. reconstruction plan failed to incorporate lessons from previous policy mistakes.
“We had to learn from Bosnia, Panama, Somalia and other cases where the U.S. was involved,” Bowen said. “But the lessons weren’t on the front page anywhere, so they didn’t interest the policy makers.”
Bowen said officials require clearer focus of their roles in the redevelopment process.
“We need integration of agencies involved in aid distribution, not coordination,” Bowen said. “It means having some authority in charge of everything. When we asked the [Department of Defense] about what we found, they couldn’t answer who had clear responsibility. This kind of thing had a deleterious effect.”
Bowen said his work aims to increase financial responsibility at home and overseas.
“We’re done with our mission next year, and we are going to a see a lot more convictions before we are done,” Bowen said. “This is about a usable mechanism and focused point of accountability. Hopefully we see meaningful response from Congress.”