$26 Billion in US Aid Later, the Iraqi Military Is a Total Disaster

The mind-boggling cost of getting Iraqi forces ready to fight the war they’re not ready for.

Soldiers from a US-suppplied Iraqi brigade display their colors during a 2006 transfer of authority ceremony.Specialist George Welcome/US Army

As US bombs rain down on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, analysts agree that this war will ultimately be won on the ground. Too bad the Iraqi defense forces are a shambles. The New York Times reports that the United States still has to train the country’s 26 “intact and loyal” brigades. And the Iraqi government has yet to recruit and set up national guard units. “It is not going to be soon,” says a State Department official.

Sound familiar? Following the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US government spent billions trying to rebuild Iraq’s security forces so they could fight insurgents such as ISIS. By the fall of 2012, about a year after the full withdrawal of American troops, this effort had consumed about half the money the US government spent on Iraq’s reconstruction, according to the final report of the Special Investigator General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).

Here’s where that money went:

  • Training the Iraqi military: $1.32 billion
    SIGIR says: “As with the police force, the number of troops reporting for duty continually fell below desired levels, with AWOL rates exceeding 3% per month.”
  • Providing military, logistical, and maintenance support for the Iraqi military: $2.6 billion
  • Renovating and building Iraqi military bases: $4.1 billion
  • Supplying the Iraqi military with aircraft, boats, tanks, armored personnel carriers, and other gear: $3.4 billion
  • Developing an elite counterterrorism force: $237 million*
    Maybe: Since the US government did not keep track of this specific expenditure, SIGIR says “the total costs of the program remained unknown.”
  • Training, staffing, and supplying Iraqi police: $9.4 billion
  • Developing the “Sons of Iraq” program to train to provide jobs for about 100,000 mostly Sunni insurgents: $370 million
    SIGIR says: “Financial controls were weak, program managers could not tell whether SOI members received their US-funded salaries, and [the Pentagon] was unable to provide evaluations of the program’s outcomes.”
  • Developing other infrastructure security programs: $300 million
  • Shoring-up Iraq’s courts: $681 million.
    SIGIR says: “The court system contends with human rights issues, including reported acts of torture and retaliatory prosecutions by police and military authorities.”
  • Building prisons, including the never-completed Khan Bani S’ad prison: $165 million

Total cost of rebuilding, training, supplying the Iraqi military, police, and justice system: Around $26 billion

Meanwhile, the estimated cost of the new war in Iraq? Around $15-$20 billion. That’s according to a recent estimate by Gordon Adams, Bill Clinton’s defense budget confidant and a professor at American University. But that could change quickly. Two weeks earlier, Adams estimated this campaign would cost $10-$15 billion.


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