By Charley Keyes, CNN Sr. National Security Producer
As the U.S. military heads towards the exits in Iraq, a new report released Sunday on a major reconstruction project there reads like a critique of the war in general - poorly planned, unexpectedly costly, years behind schedule and with an uncertain future.
The Fallujah Waste Water System was hailed as a showpiece of American efforts to rebuild and improve Iraq. It was designed to serve more than a 100,000 people, win public support and boost the economy.
After seven years of work, deadly insurgent attacks amidst some of the heaviest fighting inIraq, cost overruns and other problems, the system opened in May. But rather than a rush of success, the effect has been just a drip. By last month, only 6,000 houses were connected to the system. The initial cost estimate was $35 million but the actual cost so far has reached $100 million and may take much more before completion.During construction, workers were continually under attack and stretches of pipeline repeatedly were blown up. ThreeU.S.reconstruction officials returning from the site were killed by an improvised roadside bomb in 2009, among other deadly incidents related to the project.
"In the end, it would be dubious to conclude that this project helped stabilize the city, enhanced the local citizenry's faith in government, built local service capacity, won hearts or minds, or stimulated the economy," the report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) said. "Coupled with the fact that the outcome achieved was a wastewater treatment system operating at levels far below what was anticipated, it is difficult to conclude that the project was worth the $100 million investment and the many lives lost."
The volatile Fallujah region was selected as the site of high visibility public works projects after four U.S. private security contractors were killed there in 2004, their bodies dragged through the streets and hung from a bridge over the Euphrates. A subsequent military operation there left hundreds dead and the city wrecked.
Even now there are questions about the project going forward, whether the Iraqi government will be able to expand the system to its full potential and operate it efficiently.
"The plant operators are not properly treating the sewage because they have not been trained in using the required consumables, such as polymer and chlorine," the report says.