IRAQI RECONSTRUCTION….The CPA’s inspector general has delivered a progress report on Iraqi reconstruction:

Seven months after Congress approved the largest foreign aid package in history to rebuild Iraq, less than 5 percent of the $18.4 billion has been spent and occupation officials have begun shifting more than $300 million earmarked for reconstruction projects to administrative and security expenses.

That’s about a billion dollars, the bulk of which has gone to big ticket projects like the electric grid and getting the oil flowing.

The real shame of this is that we’ve insisted that all this money be spent through normal channels. Needless to say, there are good reasons for maintaining oversight over federal funds, but it’s hard not to think that loosening the normal requirements would have been a good idea for at least a piece of this funding.

Think about it: give or take a bit, we have about 200 battalions in Iraq. Each battalion has four to six companies. Give each company captain $20,000 a week to spend on local projects staffed by Iraqis. Total cost: around a billion dollars a year.

My arithmetic may be off for a variety of reasons, but you get the idea: put some money into the hands of the folks closest to the action and let them spend it with only minimal oversight. Probably half of it would have ended up wasted, but even at that it would have been a bargain.

It’s probably too late to do this now, but it might have worked a year ago. Another missed opportunity.

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