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U.S. Report Finds Major Flaws In Reconstruction Plan for Iraq

By James Glanz

The first official history of the $25 billion American reconstruction effort in Iraq depicts a program hobbled from the outset by gross understaffing, a lack of technical expertise, bureaucratic infighting, secrecy and constantly increasing security costs, according to a preliminary draft copy dated December 2005.

The document, which begins with the secret prewar planning for reconstruction and touches on nearly every phase of the program through 2005, was assembled by the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction and was debated last month in a closed forum by roughly two dozen experts from outside the office.

A person at the forum provided a copy to The New York Times.

The office of the inspector general, whose agents and auditors have been examining and reporting on various aspects of the rebuilding since early 2004, declined to comment on the report other than to say it was highly preliminary.

“It’s incomplete,” a spokesman, Jim Mitchell, said. “It could change significantly before it is finally published.”

In the document, the paralyzing effect of staffing shortfalls and contracting battles between the State Department and the Pentagon, creating delays of months at a stretch, are described for the first time from inside the program. The document also recounts concerns about writing contracts for an entity with the “ambiguous legal status” of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Seemingly odd decisions on dividing the responsibility for various sectors of the reconstruction crop up repeatedly in the document. At one point, a planning team decided to put all reconstruction activities in Iraq under the Army Corps of Engineers, except anything to do with water, which would go to the Navy. At the time, a retired admiral, David Nash, was in charge of the rebuilding.

“It almost looks like a spoils system between various agencies,” said Steve Ellis, an authority on the Army corps at Taxpayers for Common Sense, an organization in Washington, who read a copy of the document. “You had various fiefdoms established in the contracting process.”

One authority on reconstruction who attended the session last month, John J. Hamre, said the report was an unblinking and unbiased look at the program.

“It’s gutsy and it’s honest,” said Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, based in Washington. He was not the source of the leaked document. Even in the early stages of writing the draft, Hamre said, one central message on the reconstruction program was already fairly clear, that “it didn’t go particularly well.”

“The impression you get is of an organization that had too little structure on the ground over there, that it had conflicting guidance from the United States,” Hamre said. “It had a very difficult environment and pressures by that environment to quickly move things.”

A situation like that, he said, “creates shortcuts that probably turn into short circuits.”