BAGHDAD – A U.S. State Department program to train Iraqi police lacks focus, could become a "bottomless pit" of American money and may not even be wanted by the Iraqi department it's supposed to help, reports released Monday by a U.S. government watchdog show.
The findings by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction paint what is supposed to be the State Department's flagship program in Iraq in a harsh light.
The report comes at a crucial time for the State Department as it assumes sole responsibility for securing U.S.-Iraqi ties as American forces leave by the end of this year.
On Oct. 1, the State Department took over the job of training Iraqi police from the Defense Department. According to the inspector general's report, the training program faces many problems.
Only a small portion -- about 12 percent -- of the millions of dollars budgeted will actually go to helping the Iraqi police, the report said. The "vast preponderance of money" will pay for security and other items like living quarters for the people doing the training, the review found.
The audit also said although the State Department has known since 2009 it would be taking over the training program, it failed to develop a comprehensive and detailed plan for the training.
"Without specific goals, objectives and performance measures, the PDP (Police Development Program) could become a 'bottomless pit' for U.S. dollars intended for mentoring, advising and training the Iraqi police forces," the report stated.
The oversight agency also found that budget concerns led to the program being significantly downsized.
In 2009, the State Department agency in charge of the training, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, estimated it would cost about $721 million to pay for a program with 350 police advisers. That averaged out to about $2.1 million per adviser, said SIGIR.
But in December 2010, the program was downsized to 190 advisers while costs had increased, the report stated. According to SIGIR calculations, the average cost per adviser jumped to $6.2 million per year.
By July of this year, the number of advisers had dropped to 115 for what the State Department described as Phase 1 of the program. If its budget request is approved for fiscal year 2012, the program could be beefed up again to 190 advisers, state department officials told the oversight agency.
Despite the considerable outlay in U.S. taxpayer money, the Iraqi government has yet to sign off on the program and doesn't seem to want it. The official in the Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MOI) responsible for the ministry's day-to-day operations, Adnan al-Asadi, suggested to SIGIR that the U.S. should spend the money on something for the American people instead.
"What tangible benefit will Iraqis see from this police training program? With most of the money spent on lodging, security, support, all the MOI gets is a little expertise, and that is if the program materializes. It has yet to start," al-Asadi said.
The inspector general said the State Department did not fully cooperate with their audit.
"There were delays in gaining access to key officials and in obtaining documents. Moreover, the documents provided were incomplete," the audit read. One meeting in May was canceled an hour before it was to start because State Department officials needed to additional "Department guidance," SIGIR wrote.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad did not respond to a request for comment.
In a letter to SIGIR, the State Department said it "generally agrees" with the report's recommendations but defended its efforts.
State Department Assistant Secretary William Brownfield wrote that because they were unsure of whether they would get all the money they'd requested, they decided to start with a smaller number of trainers, and they could ramp up to 190 trainers if the money comes through.
Brownfield also said an independent organization was supposed to do a detailed assessment of Iraqi law enforcement capabilities but did not have access to people on the Iraqi side to finish the assessment in time. He said it would be done by November.
The fact that Iraq still does not have a permanent in interior minister has hampered efforts to come up with an agreement on implementing the training program, Brownfield wrote. But he said the MOI was committed to the program. He also wrote that the State Department hoped to reduce costs in the coming years and to hire more Iraqi support employees.