Seven years in Iraq. One million deaths. Mass destruction. US liberation:
The shell of a prison that will never be used rises from the desert on the edge of this dusty town north of Baghdad, a hulking monument to the wasted promise of America’s massive, $53-billion reconstruction effort in Iraq.
Construction began in May 2004 at a time when U.S. money was pouring into the country. It quickly ran into huge cost overruns. Violence erupted in the area, and a manager was shot dead in his office. The Iraqi government said it didn’t want or need the prison. In 2007 the project was abandoned, but only after $40 million of U.S. taxpayer money had been spent.
The prison is just one of the more vivid examples of what is likely to be “a significant legacy of waste” in the reconstruction program, said Stuart Bowen, the head of the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which audited the project as well as many others littering the battered Iraqi landscape.
Perhaps nothing symbolizes the failure of America’s aspirations in Iraq more than the lack of electricity. Back in 2003, the newly installed U.S. occupation authority announced plans to increase Iraq’s power generation to 6,000 megawatts a day by the summer of 2004, deemed enough to give Iraqis a big boost compared with the Saddam Hussein era.
Six summers and $4.9 billion in U.S. taxpayer money later, Iraqis are sweltering in temperatures that routinely hit 120 degrees with no more than a few hours of electricity a day in most places. Domestic production has peaked at around 5,500 megawatts, public anger is growing, and demonstrations protesting the lack of power have turned violent.
Security accounted for a huge portion of the costs, said Charles Ries, who headed the economics section at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in 2007-08. He estimates that 30% of the money spent on reconstruction went toward paying foreign security contractors to guard sites and personnel, a cost that Iraqis wouldn’t have incurred.