Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The $18.4 billion from international humanitarians

The Washington Post has another article on reconstruction. I'm struck by the end of the article, when Knickermeyer quotes several Iraqis. The Iraqis scoff at the suggestion that the US has done any meaningful reconstruction out of the Green Zone. But these comments shouldn't be surprising or discouraging.

I bet if she rephrased her question "have you seen any reconstruction activities - funded by Americans, well-meaning individuals, or the international community?" the response would be much different.

Most Iraqis who are helped by reconstruction projects in Iraq don't know that the source of funds is American taxpayers. On all the projects I've worked on, the Iraqis who handle most of the interactions with Iraqi beneficiaries rarely reveal that they're paid by the American government. Our staff seldom, if ever, disclose that credit should be given to the US

For example, when an Iraqi entrepreneur approaches a grant-making project, there is a long discussion that follows regarding the eligibility of the individual and the viability of the business plan. After sometimes months of negotiations, the business owner might receive thousands of dollars, but will probably not know that it comes from Americans.

There are a range of explanations that Iraqi staff have told me they give when beneficiaries ask about the source of the funds for their project. The most common seems to be that the source is international humanitarians. Sometimes it's the international Christian community, if the beneficiaries are Christian. Other staff will attribute the funds to the Iraqi government, and leave it at that. Occasionally - rarely - they will say that US government is paying their salary and covering the cost of the project.

Ideally, every project funded by USAID, US Army Corps of Engineers, or the State Department would have a big logo of the agency and an American flag. But that's just not feasible here. The likelihood that the project would be targeted by bad guys is too high. So we have to be satisfied that the project will do good, even if the good won't necessarily be attributed to the US government. In some cases, the beneficiaries are strategically misled about the donor. For example, I've heard that in Sadr City, where hundreds of millions of US reconstruction dollars have been spent, Muqtada actively seeks credit for American projects.

Sponsors of a mosque in northern Iraq can be more candid about their funding.


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