As U.S. troops finally leave Iraq, billions more in tax dollars are about to flow in as American diplomats, security contractors, and police trainers carry out the next missions. But the government’s chief watchdog for Iraq is warning that the State Department’s plan for training Iraqi police is so badly planned it risks becoming a “‘bottomless pit’ for U.S. dollars.”
In documents released Monday, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, quoted Iraqi officials as openly questioning the need for the police training program, which would ultimately dispatch 190 American police advisers with a requested budget of $887 million for 2012. The investigative report also accused State Department officials of trying to shield the program’s flaws from scrutiny by creating “obstructions” and “unreasonably” refusing to cooperate.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Bowen said it was important to investigate the project in spite of early resistance from the State Department because of the immense size and cost of the enterprise. “This is the single largest program affecting security that the State Department will manage in the coming year,” he said.
Bowen said his review found that senior Iraqi government officials “may not want or need this program.”
Iraq’s senior deputy minister of interior, Adnan al-Asadi, who reports to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, told Bowen’s auditors, “I don’t need it,” and recommended that the United States use the money “for something that can benefit the people of the United States, because there will be very little benefit to the MOI [Ministry of Interior] from the $1 billion.”
The audit lists extraordinary problems with the training program. Just 12 percent of the funding, the report found, will be spent on advising Iraq police. The other 88 percent will go to overhead costs, such as paying security contractors and buying helicopters.
And the amount of money is staggering: one three-month period was budgeted at $294 million. “This is the equivalent of $1.18 billion for a full year,” wrote auditors, “or approximately $6.2 million per adviser per year.”
In spite of the hundreds of millions already spent, auditors found that the State Department “has not developed a comprehensive and detailed” plan and “has yet to obtain a signed agreement” with the government of Iraq.” So far, the auditors said, the State Department has spent $367 million on the program, and the department has asked Congress for $887 million for 2012.
SIGIR also released documents to underscore the State Department’s initial resistance to an audit. In an August 2011 letter, Bowen wrote directly to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, complaining of “obstructions” to his inquiry. He told her that the State Department “unreasonably refused to provide necessary information and assistance.”
Eventually, Bowen told The Beast, the State Department provided “sufficient, if not complete, data.”
A spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, which runs the program, declined to comment but said the department’s responses to the audit were included in the report. In letters attached to the audit, one department official wrote “we simply disagree” that the department refused to cooperate.
As for the audit’s warnings about the program, the department told auditors earlier this month that it agreed with their recommendations but said “we are pleased to report that the PDP (Police Development Program) officially launched and became operational on October 1, 2011.”
Ninety advisers, of an initial planned group of 115, were already deployed in Iraq.
The U.S. has already spent $8 billion training Iraqi police since the 2003 invasion. The country’s interior ministry, which is in charge of the police, functions as a kind of FBI, national police agency, highway patrol, border patrol, counterterrorist SWAT team, and internal strike force all rolled into one.
Efforts to train and control the police have been troubled since the very beginning. Shortly after the invasion, President George W. Bush’s first choice to oversee the interior ministry and train Iraq’s police was now-disgraced former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, although he only stayed in Iraq for a brief period. In the years since then the ministry has been accused of corruption and brutality, and of working with Shiite militias. Recently, Maliki, the prime minister, has declined to appoint an interior minister and has assumed the powerful security role himself.
There may be a certain irony to the State Department’s training police at the ministry. In 2010, the State Department itself, in its yearly human rights report on Iraq, wrote of “reports of abuse at the point of arrest and investigation.” The report said “allegations of abuse included use of stress positions, beatings, electric shocks, sexual assault, denial of medical treatment, death threats, and death.”
For now, it is unclear exactly how much of the State Department’s future training plans Congress will finally approve, given Bowen’s warnings.