• Money Down the Drain: Falluja Sewer System

    October 31, 2011

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    In an endless search for the perfect allegory for the whole failure of reconstruction in Iraq, the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR) offers up the Falluja sewer system in a report issued October 30.

    An insurgent strong hold, the city of Falluja saw fighting more reminiscent of the house-to-house hell of Stalingrad than anything imagined for a counterinsurgency campaign. The massive sewer system the US wanted to put in place would be a symbol of change for the city. Yet continued heavy fighting, poor planning, unrealistic cost estimates and inadequate funding led to significant cost-overruns and delays in constructing the city’s new wastewater treatment system. After seven years and the expenditure of over $100 million dollars, the backbone of a waste water treatment system is now almost reluctantly in place, servicing the toilets of approximately 38,400 residents.

    While some sort of forward movement, this is far short of the 100,000 residents originally intended to benefit from the system. Completion of the existing backbone facility was years late and millions of dollars over budget, leaving Falluja’s streets torn up and in disrepair for years. Many people, including State Department contract personnel, died while working on the project.

    The project started with the Bush-era connections that characterized the contracting side of the Iraq war. Fluor Corp, the company that won the contract, had the cuddly links that flourish in Washington. Suzanne H. Woolsey, wife of former CIA director R. James Woolsey, joined the board of Fluor in January 2004. Just months later, Fluor was awarded $1.6 billion in Iraq reconstruction projects, including the Fallujah sewage plant.

    The work on the system began in 2005, and by mid-2009 the US was declaring the system “three-fourths complete and is expected to go into operation before the end of the year.” “We’re in fact a $100 million raging success,” said Peter Collins, who was chief engineer on the project from August 2006 to May 2009.

    To claim any measure of success in Falluja because the project was less than a total failure is to miss the point. While ostensibly about waste water, this project had the goals of enhancing local citizens’ faith in their government, delivery essential services, building a service capacity within the local government, winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi populace and boosting employment for young men who were otherwise recruitable by the insurgency. In short, the sewer system had as its goals the same things the reconstruction as a whole tried to do.

    The full SIGIR report on the Falluja sewer system makes for sad, almost mandatory reading for those interested in why we may have meant well, we did not succeed.

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