The United States has spent more than $47 billion on reconstruction efforts in Iraq with the goal improving basic services for the Iraqi people, bolstering Iraq’s economic infrastructure, and building the capacity and legitimacy of the Iraqi government. Five years later and with U.S. reconstruction funding running out, however, the Bush Administration has little to show for the billions in U.S. investment. Oil production remains below prewar levels, unemployment has skyrocketed, and rampant corruption has severely undermined efforts to rein in militia groups and build a functioning government in Baghdad.
Despite the failings of reconstruction, the Bush Administration has vowed to continue its "stay the course" strategy, effectively handing a blank check to the Iraqi government that has failed to provide for long-term economic development or ensure a basic livelihood for its citizens. As the following report highlights, the Bush strategy has already had a profoundly negative impact on the Iraqi people; staying the course will only hurt future prospects for a stable, secure Iraq.
The U.S.-Led Reconstruction Effort Has Failed To Improve The Quality Of Life For The Iraqi People
Despite the commitment of more than $47 billion in taxpayer funds, U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq have failed to build capable national security and police forces, put Iraq’s economy on the road to recovery, or improve the lives of the Iraqi people. Projects to promote Iraq’s economic development and rebuild Iraq’s critical infrastructure have been severely undermined by the lack of security in Iraq, as well as contractor mismanagement, fraud, corruption and criminal activity. According to the most recent data published by the Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), oil production remains below pre-war levels, electricity production has barely risen above prewar averages and remains significantly below national demand, while access to potable water is failing to meet the population’s needs.
The slow pace of Iraq reconstruction has led to a general rise in pessimism among the Iraqi population. A poll conducted by ABC and the BBC earlier this month found that the vast majority of Iraqis, including 88 percent of Sunnis, 81 percent of Shi’as and 61 percent of Kurds surveyed view the provision of basic services, including the availability of water, fuel, and electricity as "bad" or "very bad." Further, 70 percent of respondents expressed disapproval regarding the availability of jobs, 62 percent said that the availability of medical care was "bad" or "very bad," and 88 percent responded that the supply of electricity was "bad" or "very bad." (SIGIR, 1/31/08; BBC, 3/17/08)
The Iraqi people still cannot trust their security forces to protect them against al Qaeda, sectarian militias, and other extremist threats. As the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq reported in September, the "Iraqi Police Service is incapable today of providing security at a level sufficient to protect Iraqi neighborhoods from insurgents and sectarian violence." The Pentagon’s March quarterly report to Congress similarly found that "Sectarianism and corruption remain significant problems that both [the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior] continue to address." (Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, 9/6/07; Department of Defense, Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq, 3/07)
Iraqi citizens continue to live in extreme hardship, without employment opportunities and basic services, like electricity and potable water.
- The unemployment rate remains at record levels, with estimates as high as 60 to 70 percent. In its latest quarterly report on security and stability in Iraq, the Pentagon stated that "Unemployment and underemployment remain major challenges." While citing official Iraqi government statistics that report unemployment at 17.6 percent and underemployment at 38.1 percent, the DOD report noted that "Attempts to measure unemployment by other means at the provincial levels suggests that the rate could be much higher for some provinces." According to the Iraqi government, unemployment was between 60 to 70 percent in 2007. Baghdad journalist Mohammad al-Dulaymi explains that the unemployment rate is so high because "to survive in Iraq under US occupation, there are only two jobs; police and garbage collection." Iraqi government officials have warned that the high unemployment rates continue to fuel Iraq’s insurgency. (Asia Times, 12/21/07; IRIN, 6/10/07)
- Electricity production still hovers at pre-war levels and remains significantly short of demand. Before the war, Iraq generated approximately 4,000 megawatts of electricity. Today, production levels hover around that level (at 3,950 megawatts in February and 4,285 so far this month) and remain far below the U.S. reconstruction goal of 6,000 megawatts. Earlier this month, the Pentagon reported that "the gap between [electricity] supply and demand [grew] by 18% from October 2007 to January 2008 and decreased the hours of power available throughout Iraq." According to the report, Baghdad had an average of just 9 hours of electricity per day in January, and only seven of Iraq’S.18 provinces averaged more than 12 hours of power per day during that time. (Brookings Institution, Iraq Index, 3/24/08; Department of Defense, Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq, 3/08)
- Access to potable water and sanitation continues to fall short of needs. According to a recent report from Oxfam International and a coalition of Iraqi NGOs, "The number of Iraqis without access to adequate water supplies has risen from 50 per cent to 70 percent since 2003, while 80 per cent lack effective sanitation." (Oxfam and the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI), Rising to the Humanitarian Challenge in Iraq, July 2007)
- Iraq’s health system is in "disarray." A recent report produced by an independent team of researchers and advisors from the U.S. and the U.K. assessed that Iraq’s health system is "in disarray owing to the lack of an institutional framework, intermittent electricity, unsafe water, and frequent violations of medical neutrality. The ministry of health and local health authorities are mostly unable to meet these huge challenges, while the activities of UN agencies and non-governmental organizations are severely limited." It reported that the Iraqi people have suffered significantly, given the significant shortage of doctors and nurses, inadequately equipped hospitals, and growing corruption. (The Guardian, 1/16/08)
- Forty-three percent of Iraqis suffer from "absolute poverty," or live on less that $1 per day. According to Oxfam International, major causes of poverty in Iraq include the extremely high unemployment rate, the deaths of Iraqi men, "which leave households in which women struggle to survive the loss of the main breadwinner." (Oxfam and the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI), Rising to the Humanitarian Challenge in Iraq, July, 2007)
President Bush’s Flawed Strategy In Iraq Has Led to Insecurity, And The Iraqi People are Caught In The Crossfire
Tens, and possibly hundreds, of thousands of Iraqis have been killed since 2003. The nonpartisan, non-governmental organization, the Iraq Body Count reports there have been between 82,408-89,928 documented civilian deaths in Iraq since the beginning of the war. Several other independent studies, however, have found that civilian casualties could be significantly higher than reported. A national household survey conducted by the Iraqi government and the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 151,000 Iraqis died between March 2003 and June 2006. Last year, a study published in the medical journal Lancet estimated that more than 650,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed in the violence, while a recent British survey found that as many as 1.2 million Iraqis had been killed. While many, including the Iraqi government, have dismissed the Lancet and British poll estimates as inaccurate, as analysts have noted, there is no way to verify the death toll because the government does not provide a full count of civilian deaths and neither does the U.S. military. (Iraq Body Count, accessed on 3/125/08; WHO, 1/9/08; Los Angeles Times, 9/14/07)
One in five Iraqis – nearly 5 million – has been displaced by the violence. The nonpartisan organization Refugees International has warned that Iraq represents "the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis." According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), an estimated 2.4 million Iraqis have been internally displaced, while another 2.5 million have fled as refugees, primarily to neighboring countries. More than 1.5 million Iraqis are now living in Syria, upwards of one million Iraqis have fled to Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran and Yemen. While these countries are quickly becoming overwhelmed by the massive influx of refugees, Iraqis are facing growing restrictions inside these host countries, where they often have to pay for basic services, are denied employment opportunities, and face the constant threat of deportation. (Refugees International, 1/31/08; Congressional Research Service, "Iraq, Regional Perspectives and U.S. Policy," 9/12/07)
- Host countries have been overwhelmed and often are not providing refugees with access to basic services. Refugees International reports that "most [Iraqi] refugees are unable to work or sustain themselves, cannot afford to rent apartments or access health care and most refugee children are not in school." A recent U.N. survey of Iraqi refugees living in Syria found that dropout rates have more than doubled among school-aged refugees since May. (Refugees International, 1/16/07; McClatchy, 12/14/07)
- Iraqi refugees are growing increasingly desperate. According to the U.N. survey conducted in October and November, one-third of Iraqi refugees living in Syria anticipate that they will run out of money within three months, while a quarter of the refugees depend on financial support from relatives in Iraq or abroad to make ends meet. The U.N. spokeswoman in Damascus said that the survey reflects the conditions they are witnessing on the ground, "We’ve seen the poorest of the poor here… We’re seeing more homelessness, child labor…early marriage and temporary marriage." The World Food Program is currently providing food to 50,000 Iraqi families in Syria. (McClatchy, 12/14/07)
- Internally displaced Iraqis also face critical challenges. According to aid officials in Iraq, ten of Iraq’S.18 governorates are denying refuge and aid to civilians seeking to escape violence in other parts of the country. As the Guardian reports, "most of Iraq’s provinces have closed their doors to people fleeing conflict elsewhere in the country, cutting off a vital escape route for people threatened in the country." (The Guardian, 10/11/07)
- The United States has fallen short in its pledge to accept Iraqi refugees. The UNHCR referred more than 8,000 Iraqis to the U.S. refugee admissions program in Fiscal Year 2007, but only 1,608 were accepted — significantly below the Administration’s stated commitment to accept 7,000 Iraqi refugees. According to Human Rights First, the refugees referred to the United States by the U.N. included "victims of torture and detention, individuals at risk of deportation from Jordan or Syria, and orphaned children." (Human Rights First, 9/24/07)
- As impoverishment has forced some Iraqi refugees to return home, they face an uncertain future with a government unprepared to resettle them. According to the UNHCR, the vast majority of refugees have returned to Iraq because they have run out of options. A November survey of Iraqi refugees returning from Syria found that 46 percent were returning due to "financial hardship" and 26 percent because their visas had run out. Yet, even as they are forced return, the Iraqi government has warned that it does not have the capacity to provide shelter, aid, or other basic services. Further, as the New York Times reported, "the Iraqi government lacks a mechanism to settle property disputes if former residents return only to find their homes occupied." (Reuters, 12/31/07; New York Times, 11/30/07)
Iraqis are living "like prisoners" in Baghdad under the Bush Administration’s military escalation plan. While Baghdad has become safer in recent months, Iraqis say that the improved security situation has come with a heavy price tag. The U.S. counterinsurgency campaign has separated neighborhoods with concrete walls, wired fences, and guarded checkpoints and divided the city along sectarian lines, significantly compromising freedom of movement and any sense of normalcy. As the Christian Science Monitor recently reported, "While many here are grateful for the newfound calm, they say the price is an increasingly segregated city that is starting to feel like a collective cage. In many cases the U.S. military is keeping tabs on male residents by collecting fingerprints and retinal scans." (Christian Science Monitor, 12/10/08)
Most Iraqis blame the U.S. military invasion for their internal discord and suffering. According to focus group studies in five cities conducted for the U.S. military in December, Iraqis of all ethnic and sectarian groups view the U.S. invasion of Iraq as the fundamental cause of their internal divisions and believe that the departure of "occupying forces" as key to national reconciliation. (Washington Post, 12/18/07)
President Bush’s Flawed Post-War Strategy Has Failed To Build An Effective Iraqi Government And Has Led To Endemic Corruption And Serious Human Rights Abuses
Corruption in Iraq has reached unprecedented levels, undermining government effectiveness and legitimacy. According to an independent analysis by Transparency International, Iraq is now ranked the third most corrupt country in the world, behind only Somalia and Myanmar among the 180 countries surveyed. As a recent New York Times article warned, "there is a growing sense that, even as security has improved Iraq has slipped to new depths of lawlessness." According to the article, some American officials estimate that as much as a third of U.S. funding for Iraqi grants and contracts ends up stolen or unaccounted for while Iraqi officials estimate that $18 billion Iraqi government funds have been stolen since 2004. This widespread corruption, it concludes, "undermines Iraq’s ability to provide essential services, a key to sustaining recent security gains, according to American military commanders. It also sows a corrosive distrust of democracy and hinders reconciliation as entrenched groups in the Shiite-led government resist reforms that would cut into reliable cash flows." (New York Times, 12/02/07)
Iraqis have suffered in the absence of the rule of law. Stewart Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), recently testified that Iraq’s citizens have a lack of faith "in their anti-corruption institutions’ capacity to prosecute cases effectively and fairly. This weakness is due, in part, to the shortage of reliable judges, courtrooms, and detention facilities. It is also due to political interference and the resulting culture of impunity." (Stuart W. Bowen, Jr., Testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 10/4/07)
Iraqis have been detained and tortured without cause. According to Human Rights Watch, "Reports of widespread torture and other abuses of detainees in detention facilities run by Iraq’s defense and interior ministries and police continue to emerge. In October 2007, officials from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) reported that detainees had been hung by their limbs, subjected to electric shocks, and burned by their jailers." The report also noted that detainees often were denied or limited access to council and due process rights. Earlier last year, the International Red Cross similarly warned that the treatment that some Iraqi detainees received was "tantamount to torture." (Human Rights Watch, 1/31/08; CNN, 5/10/04)
Humanitarian and civil rights and have suffered marked setbacks.
- A growing number of Iraqi children are being denied basic education. Official figures from the Iraqi Ministry of Education show that one-third of Iraqi children do not attend primary school. The trend is even more pronounced among girls, who often are kept at home out of fear that they will be raped or killed on their way to school. According to UNICEF, the high school drop-out rate is rising: just 28 percent of 17-year-olds took final exams this summer. (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 10/29/07; McClatchy, 12/21/07).
- Ethnic and religious minorities have faced harassment and death threats. Shiite militia groups in Basra have reportedly assumed the role of morality police, increasingly targeting Christian women with death threats for not wearing headscarves and harassing Sunni university students for not abiding by strict Islamic norms. (London Times, 12/8/07).
- Members of Iraq’s LBGT community have been persecuted and killed. In 2005, Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a religious decree, calling for the killing of gay and lesbians in the "worst, most severe way." Last year, the U.N. reported the rise of "violent campaigns," including torture and extrajudicial killings of gay and lesbians in Iraq. According to an Iraqi rights group, more than 400 people have been killed since 2003 for being gay. (New York Times, 12/18/07)