In the LRB, Ed Harriman explores corruption and waste in the reconstruction of Iraq.
American military spending on Iraq is now approaching $8 billion a month. Accounting for inflation, this is half as much again as the average monthly cost of the Vietnam War; the total spent so far has long surpassed the cost of the entire Apollo space programme. Three and a half months of occupation costs the equivalent of Iraq’s estimated oil revenues for the current financial year. We now know, thanks to the leaked report of James Baker’s Iraq Study Group, that if US troops withdrew, they would in all probability be redeployed to neighbouring countries, increasing the already massive expenditure and inevitably threatening new arenas of conflict. Here’s an unimaginable alternative. If the US army left the region, and if the money was instead handed out to every Iraqi man, woman and child, they would each receive more than $300 a month.
They need it: Iraq has run out of reconstruction money. The funds in the so-called Development Fund for Iraq – some $20 billion of Iraqi money – were spent by Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority in the first year of the occupation. The US Embassy in Baghdad has spent virtually all of the $18.4 billion that Congress appropriated for ‘rebuilding’ the country; $5.6 billion of it was used to run the embassy, promote American ‘values’ and set up the new armed forces and police. Most of the American money never even gets to Iraq. The bulk of it has gone to American consultants, or into American contractors’ international bank accounts…
One thing is certain: the Coalition has created and fostered the least accountable and least transparent regime in the Middle East.