Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Associated Press hit piece debunked

The headline read thus:

"Iraq refuses to take over many projects
Reluctance to assume control could cost U.S. billions, audit finds"

In the story, the Associated Press reported that the Government of Iraq's refusal to take over various reconstruction projects was going to cost the United States billions of dollars, citing a report from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

I have obtained a copy of the report, entitled Transferring Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund Capital Projects to the Government of Iraq (SIGIR).

At no point in the report does SIGIR claim that the government of Iraq "refuses" to take over the projects, nor does the report state that the alleged refusal stands to cost American taxpayers "billions." Here's what the report does state:

"Delays in transferring completed projects mean that fewer assets are available to the [Government of Iraq] as leverage for loans and could result in additional sustainment expenses for hte U.S. government agencies that completed the projects." (SIGIR-07-004, July 2007)

I have been in contact with project management and finance & accounting officials at the Gulf Regional Division, US Army Corps of Engineers, in Iraq. Corps officials tell me that the GOI is not refusing to take these projects over--the GOI is budgetarily incapable of doing so. In what amounts to a disastrous success, the United States government has completed hundreds of projects worth billions of dollars in less than three years, overwhelming the new government. With insufficient tax and oil revenues flowing in to take over and operate all of the new projects, the GOI has asked for time and suggested turning over smaller, community-based projects to local officials. The US government has agreed to do so with numerous small projects. For the larger projects that exceed the locals' operation and maintainence capacity, the US agencies are carrying the O&M costs until transfer can be accomplished. Officials estimate that one to two years of O&M will be incurred, but denied that those costs would run into the billions even if transfers are further delayed.

Corps officials tell me that no one from AP contacted them for comment on the matter, despite the fact that the Corps is the lead agency in reconstruction efforts.

Clearly, the AP story, which ran on MSNBC, Yahoo! News, CNN and various other websites, was poorly researched and badly reported. While I am stopping short of accusing the AP of deliberately misstating the contents of the SIGIR report, the story stands out as yet another example of shoddy journalism on the part of AP.