WASHINGTON – A detailed official history of the U.S. effort to reconstruct Iraq after Saddam Hussein's overthrow in 2003 blamed its failings on "blinkered and disjointed" prewar planning, a deadly insurgency and wasteful and ill-managed contracting.
The 500-plus page document also asserts that the Bush administration, in early stages of the war, exaggerated the number of Iraqi forces trained to help American troops provide adequate security.
The study, "Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience," was produced by a special U.S. auditing group that has dug deeply into the multibillion-dollar reconstruction effort since 2004. It is a detailed summation of the findings from many previous audits and reviews by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, led by Stuart Bowen.
Among its central conclusions is the Washington was unprepared and ill-equipped to reconstruct Iraq in the aftermath of an invasion that led to an insurgency, a collapse of government and an economy that "switched off." The document also suggests that this arose from an ill-fitting U.S. national security structure, which it said could produce an equally ineffective reconstruction effort in future conflicts.
Thus far the United States has spent about $50 billion on Iraq reconstruction.
To the question posed by Bowen — Did the reconstruction program meet the goals it set for itself? — the document says the answer is generally "no" with regard to rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, but generally "yes" on developing Iraqi security forces, which are now in charge of the majority of Iraqi provinces.
The New York Times and ProPublica, an online investigative journalism project, were first to report on the Bowen document, which is in draft form. Both publications posted the document on their Web sites Sunday.
The final version is to be released Feb. 2, the day of the first hearing of the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting. The group was set up by Congress this year to look at the systemic problems in the federal government's contracting for logistical support, security and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pentagon and State Department spokesmen declined to comment on the document, saying they had not seen the draft.
Virtually all of the significant conclusions in the document have been stated before, including the problem of a lack of security, turbulence caused by civilian personnel turnover in Baghdad, waste stemming from inadequate contracting and contract management, and poor integration of U.S. interagency efforts.
The study, the most sweeping of its kind, is the fourth in a series of Bowen's "Lessons Learned" reports. The auditors reviewed contracting, the use of personnel and the management of projects to reach conclusions about shortcomings and to recommend ways of avoiding them.
At the center of the failures in Iraq reconstruction lay an obvious shortcoming — a lack of security. That hampered not only the actual work in Baghdad and elsewhere, but also the State Department's effort to recruit civilian expertise and to encourage more international contributions to the effort.
The Bowen history asks, "Why did reconstruction efforts so often fail to meet their mark?" and answers in one word: security. Tied to that problem was the issue of developing competent Iraqi security forces.
Bowen notes that the U.S. civilian administration that President George W. Bush installed in Baghdad, led by L. Paul Bremer, stated in July 2003 that "our first priority is to create a secure and safe environment, without which there can be little progress on other goals." Bowen concludes that the lack of a secure environment hurt not only reconstruction but also the ability to develop Iraqi police and military forces.
Compounding the problem, Bremer states, was a U.S. tendency to overstate progress in training Iraqi forces.
Bowen quotes Colin Powell, Bush's secretary of state at the start of the war, as claiming that the Pentagon "kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces — the number would jump 20,000 a week! 'We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000.'" Bowen interviewed Powell in February.
And he quotes from a book by now-retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq in 2004, about the officer's experience in Iraq. Sanchez wrote that "at various times, the Department of Defense inflated the numbers of effective Iraqi forces," while ignoring the fact that "the enduring challenge was building capable and effective Iraqi forces rather than simply adding numbers."
Lawrence Di Rita, a senior aide to then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the outset of the war, said Sunday that from his reading of the draft version posted on the Web on Sunday it appears that Bowen failed to adequately take account of the fact that Bush's initial plan called for a rapid hand over of authority to an interim Iraqi governing body — not for a prolonged American military occupation.
"Planning was based around that," Di Rita said in an e-mail. "When we deviated from that after (Bremer's office) got up to speed, we invited years of spending and detailed involvement in every aspect of the Iraq government. That was not the original concept."