Congressman Lantos Calls Reconstruction Efforts in Iraq 'Mired in the Mud of Incompetence'

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The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday raked reconstruction efforts in Iraq as "mired in the mud of incompetence."

Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., said some American contractors are not accountable to anyone and have lined their pockets with U.S. dollars.

But, Lantos also told a committee hearing the incompetence was no surprise, "knowing the administration's abysmal track record on Iraq reconstruction planning."

Testifying the record was a mixed one, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said the program faced enormous challenges, especially an unstable security environment.

" There have been notable accomplishments," but also significant shortfalls, he said.

But in a report three weeks ago, the special investigator reported that Iraqis would not be capable of managing reconstruction anytime soon. The report cited daily violence, corruption and poor maintenance.

The report said corruption among Iraqi officials appeared to be worsening. So far, the report said, the U.S.-led war and rebuilding effort had cost nearly $400 billion.

The Congressional Research Service, in a report to Congress on Monday, said the United States had provided more than $35 billion in reconstruction assistance to Iraq.

Bowen on Tuesday told the House committee that "the phase wherein the U.S. bears the burden of financing Iraq reconstruction has passed" and that the Iraqi government must take responsibility for financing the country's recovery.

Lantos, taking a tough line, said the inspector general's staff had found Iraq loses perhaps $5 billion a year due to waste created by corruption and that only eight primary health centers have been opened, nowhere near the original goal of 150.

An axiom of development, Lantos said, was that if you give a man a fish he will eat for a day but if you teach him how to fish he will eat for the rest of his life.

"When it comes to Iraqi reconstruction, we have not even stocked the ponds, let along taught the Iraqis how to fish," he said.

Similarly, Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, D-N.Y., said Iraq was not producing oil or electricity at prewar rates. And, he said, last week, the Government Accountability Office, a U.S. watchdog group, reported that 100,000 to 300,000 barrels of oil a day went unaccounted for.

"I used to have a car like that," he said, prompting laughter in the House office building hearing room.

Another Democrat, Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California, said, "We shouldn't be in Iraq in the first place. We have destroyed a sovereign nation, their economy and their infrastructure."

The United States should bring the American troops home and then invest in helping Iraq rebuild, she said. "We have to stop the drain of U.S. dollars going to corrupt U.S. contractors," she said.

On the Republican side, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, said serious errors had been made in the reconstruction process.

She said the United States must work to increase the ability of the Iraqi government to provide adequate jobs, water, fuel and electricity.