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Auditors say billions likely wasted in Iraq work

After years of following the paper trail of $51 billion provided to rebuild a broken Iraq, the U.S. government can say with certainty that too much was wasted. But it can't say how much.

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Much, however, apparently got overlooked. Example: A $35 million Pentagon project was started in December 2006 to establish the Baghdad airport as an international economic gateway, and the inspector general found that by the end of 2010 about half the money was "at risk of being wasted" unless someone else completed the work.

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Of the $51 billion that Congress approved for Iraq reconstruction, about $20 billion was for rebuilding Iraqi security forces and about $20 billion was for rebuilding the country's basic infrastructure. The programs were run mainly by the Defense Department, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

A key weakness found by Bowen's inspectors was inadequate reviewing of contractors' invoices.

In some cases invoices were checked months after they had been paid because there were too few government contracting officers. Bowen found a case in which the State Department had only one contracting officer in Iraq to validate more than $2.5 billion in spending on a DynCorp contract for Iraqi police training.

"As a result, invoices were not properly reviewed, and the $2.5 billion in U.S. funds were vulnerable to fraud and waste," the report said. "We found this lack of control to be especially disturbing since earlier reviews of the DynCorp contract had found similar weaknesses."

In that case, the State Department eventually reconciled all of the old invoices and as of July 2009 had recovered more than $60 million.

The report touched on a problem that cropped up in virtually every major aspect of the U.S. war effort in Iraq, namely, the consequences of fighting an insurgency that proved more resilient than the Pentagon had foreseen. That not only made reconstruction more difficult, dangerous and costly, but also left the U.S. military unprepared for the grind of multiple troop deployments, the tactics of an adaptable insurgency and the complexity of battlefield wounds. It also left the U.S. government short of the expertise it needed to monitor contractors.

Although the audit was labeled as final, a spokesman for Bowen's office, Christopher M. Griffith, said several more will be done to provide additional details on what the U.S. got for its reconstruction dollars and what was wasted.

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