Where we stand on Iraq reconstruction

Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq Reconstruction

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: While a lot of attention has been focused on bailouts and bank earnings things that used to be news still are. Iraqi officials are meeting with international business executives in London today. About 250 of them, companies from Shell Oil to Rolls Royce. They'll be talking about possible investment opportunities as Baghdad takes on more responsibility for security and rebuilding.

As it stands right now most of the money for that rebuilding comes from the United States. Stuart Bowen's the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. His office has just put out its most recent quarterly update. Good to talk to you again.

STUART BOWEN: Thanks, Kai. It's good to be with you again.

Ryssdal: Where are we having the most success with what we're spending?

BOWEN: I think that it's evident now that the Iraqi army has substantially improved its capability over the last two years. That directly stems from the investment of $18 billion in U.S. taxpayer money through the Iraq security forces fund. That's paying off. But it will really to pay off this spring. The last 10 days have been the bloodiest 10 days in Iraq for 18 months.

Ryssdal: Yeah, I want to pick up on a couple of things you said in that regard. You called it a changing security posture, the other way to say that is the withdrawal of troops. How is that going to affect reconstruction, and what we're spending?

Bowen: Well, it will directly affect reconstruction because it means the provincial reconstruction teams will have less capacity, less ability to move about the country. Right now, they are fairly free to operate where U.S. forces control in the provinces. That's going to change rather quickly over the next year. And that means the provincial reconstruction team program will begin to wind down.

Ryssdal: The Iraqi government gets a lot of its revenue from oil and yet you write that there is still no oil law there. How can that be?

Bowen: Well, we've written that every quarter now for 2.5 years, and it is a serious sticking point with regard to overall progress for Iraqis. That means that they don't have rules of the game for multinationals to invest. Prime Minister Maliki told me, when I visited with him in February, that he's very upset with the Kurdish regional government selling oil directly on the open market from the Kukut fields. A very, very serious issue I might add in 2009 for Iraq. That is, the Kurdish-Arab tensions.

Ryssdal: Is American support still necessary at its present levels?

Bowen: Yes, for three reasons. One, to try and facilitate reconciliation between the sons of Iraq, the Sunnis whom we employed in the security apparatus as they transition to government of Iraq control. Two, to help the Iraqis resolve the Kurdish-Arab tensions, which continue to arise. And three, to provide capacity building for the national government and the local government, particularly in light of the financial difficulties the country now faces because of the collapse in world oil prices.

Ryssdal: Is your job made easier or more difficult by the fact that Iraq is not really on the front pages over here very much anymore?

BOWEN: I think it's irrelevant to my mission. My mission is about being the taxpayers' watchdog in Iraq.

Ryssdal: What about the job of reconstruction, though?

BOWEN: Well, there's now under $7 billion left to spend. Well under a billion in new money that will be appropriated for Iraq. And that is as it should be. Iraq has the third largest oil reserves in the world. The duty of Reconstruction -- capital R -- is the duty of the government of Iraq.

Ryssdal: Stuart Bowen is the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. Mr. Bowen, thanks so much for your time.

BOWEN: Good. Thank you Kai.

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