BAGHDAD One dollar in eight of the $48 billion paid out by U.S. taxpayers to rebuild Iraq since the 2003 invasion was spent on private bodyguards, a U.S. government audit published on Thursday shows.
A report by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, found that nearly $6 billion earmarked for Iraqi reconstruction was spent on private security companies hired to guard officials and workers.
The security costs went largely unnoticed because there was no requirement that government agencies keep tabs on them.
"Because there was no requirement to track these costs, it was not completely clear for several years that security costs were consuming large portions of reconstruction budgets," the report said. "It is now clear these costs were extremely high."
The U.S. government signed $5.3 billion in contracts with 77 different firms to provide security for projects.
Another $662 million was committed to 233 firms for "security services that could be for guards or escorts but the descriptions of work were so general that they could be for other services such as providing information technology security."
Reconstruction projects in Iraq have been slow to deliver. Five years after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, most Iraqis still live without a reliable electricity supply. Many survive without access to clean water or sanitation.
The report recommended government departments develop a process for "routinely capturing financial information for all contracts and subcontracts for private security services."
It also suggested program managers should think carefully about a project's security costs, weighed against its benefits.
(Reporting by Tim Cocks; Editing by Sami Aboudi)