Fallujah's Sewer to Nowhere

With the cable TV so-called news shows all a-dither over Sarah Palin's celebrity makeover, you might have missed the latest news from Iraq, where another $100 million of our tax dollars has gone into the sewer, literally. If the RNC wants to spend $150,000 of its donors' money on taking the wilderness out of the woman, so be it. At least that money is accounted for and has achieved its goal -- the pit bull looks as sharp as, well, a hound's tooth in her pricey new threads.

No such luck in Iraq, the forgotten stepchild of this surreal presidential campaign.

The Special Inspector for Iraq Reconstruction, an independent federal office led by Stewart W. Bowen (who has consistently released damning reports on the lost billions and failed projects in Iraq that go virtually unnoticed by most Americans), reports that a sewage treatment plant being constructed in Fallujah with American dollars and know-how is three times over budget, three years behind schedule, and may never be used.

Even if the $100 million wastewater plant were to overcome its many deficiencies, like no reliable electricity to run the required pumps and purification tanks, it will treat only one-third of Fallujah's households, not the entire city as originally intended. That's 9,300 homes at a cost of $10,000 each in American taxpayer dollars.

Americans are losing their own homes to foreclosure in record numbers, yet we're giving $10,000 dollars to 9,300 homeowners in Fallujah so they can flush their toilets. According to John McCain and Sarah Palin -- and their stumblebum tax code expert Joe the Plumber -- redistributing the wealth among Americans is socialism, but distributing it among Iraqis is -- proof that the surge is working?

But what's surging in Fallujah is sewage, because there's a problem with the hook-ups. None of the 9,300 homes is connected to the main sewer lines because no money was budgeted for it. The Iraqi government, unwilling to foot the bill, has told homeowners to dig their own connections -- a creative but potentially lethal solution. A 16-year-old Iraqi boy was overcome by fumes and died after his family sent him down to work on their pipeline.

Who's responsible for this boondoggle? Bowen's report criticizes the Bush administration and the Coalition Provisional Authority for pushing to start the project in 2004, when Fallujah was the epicenter of the most deadly violence in Iraq. We have an honorable history of helping to rebuild the countries we've invaded after the fighting has ended, not while our soldiers are still dodging bullets and bombs.

Bowen's report fails to mention that Fluor Corp, the company that won the contract, had the sort of cozy bidness/gubmint connections that flourished in Washington during the Bush-Cheney years. According to the LA Times, Suzanne H. Woolsey, wife of former CIA director, R. James Woolsey, joined the board of Fluor in January 2004. Just months later, Fluor was awarded $1.6 billion in Iraq reconstruction projects, including the Fallujah sewage plant. And, in another bit of serendipity, Woolsey's husband was a founding member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a private advocacy group set up in 2002 at the instigation of the White House to build public support for the war.

The report also tags the Iraqi government, which took over the project in 2006 and managed to make it worse by dividing it up among 45 local contractors, many of them with no experience in building wastewater plants, resulting in chaos that included ethnic in-fighting and unpaid contractors locking the manholes to their part of the pipelines until paid. They're still locked.

The report on Fallujah's sewer to nowhere reads like a litany of every misstep in Iraq -- rash decisions, little or no oversight, ineptitude, staggering waste, cronyism, greed, and a reckless disregard for life -- all the earmarks of the Bush administration.

Instead of going after those earmarks, John McCain frets about a planetarium projector in Chicago, and claims success in Iraq. Thanks, but no thanks.

The election this Tuesday will determine whether we stay the devil's course in Iraq, or bring American dollars and American soldiers home to rebuild our own torn nation. It's a no-brainer. But I've said that too many times before.

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