Calling Joe the Plumber: Sewage troubles in Fallujah

November 12, 2008 by susan
bombed street in fallujah

Firebombed street in Fallujah. Okay, so I guess we owe them a sewage plant. But does it have to work?

With all the dung the former Maverick and his sidekick were tossing around the country in the last few weeks, you might have missed the latest poop on Iraq, the forgotten stepchild of this b'zillion dollar election.

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), reported 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. Read on, it just gets better.

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 was planned. Still, that's 9,300 homes at a cost of roughly $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. I know, we're giving AIG execs spa dates and funny money to banks, and I know that we flattened Fallujah so we owe them, but still, it stinks. If redistributing the wealth to help Americans is socialism, what's redistributing the wealth to help Iraqis? Surge-ism?

Anyway, what's surging in Fallujah is sewage, because there's another 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, despite a $93 billion surplus, has told homeowners to dig their own connections - a creative but potentially lethal solution. A16-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. The Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Europe after WW2, was a spectacular American success, but we did that after the fighting had ended, not while our soldiers were still dodging bullets and bombs.

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.

What Bowen's report doesn’t mention is that Fluor Corp, the company that won the contract, had the sort of cozy bidness/gubmint connections that spread through Washington like dendrites 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.

Woolsey's husband, as luck -- or something -- would have it, was also 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. Can we just send all these people to prison?

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

Well, this time Americans rose up and said “thanks, but no thanks” to those earmarks. They voted the way they did for many reasons, but surely one was to end Bush’s inexcusable bloody romp into Iraq, and to bring American soldiers home to help rebuild our own tattered nation.

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barbara says (not verified) | November 12, 2008 - 9:09am

Crikey! The gift that keeps on giving. Who knew? Oh, wait, the Bushies knew. May there be a special place in hell for them, sans plumbing, unless they're able to dig their way to the River Styx.


Anonymous (not verified) | November 12, 2008 - 2:55pm

I'm the mother of a U. S. Marine captain who has served on two deployments to Iraq and is proud of his service on behalf of America and the people of Iraq. We have an obligation to help the Iraqis rebuild their country. You can call it Bush's "bloody romp" but please recognize that our congress was complicit in instigating this conflict.


susan | November 13, 2008 - 1:07am

Dear anonymous #1,

Yes, the congress was complicit, as was the media and a whole host of others who told us this war would be a quick-in-and-out mission, we'd be greeted as liberators by Iraqis dancing in the streets. (Hmmm, who's dancing in the streets now?)

But congress did not dream this thing up. We needed Bush/Cheney and the neo-cons for that. Doesn't it say something when the former head of the CIA serves on 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?

I agree, we have a proud history of rebuilding nations in need, especially when we're part of the reason they're in need, and I hope your son was part of the building up effort, not the tearing down.
But again, the fault seems to lie with the Bush administration and Bremer's provisional government, which pushed for the plant to be built while Fallujah was under heavy siege. I'm sure the intent was to show that we were the good guys, that we would clean up their streets, build them schools --hearts and minds and all that. But it's the bungling at every turn that boggles the mind. And the astonishing lack of understanding before we went in of the Iraqi tribal and religious tensions that would be unleashed. No matter how bravely your good son served, this was a bloody -- and you're right, romp is too flip -- war that didn't have to happen.
Congress did go along with a woefully weak plan, and the media gave it all a pass, but the plan was drawn up by Bush et al. Not by congress.
One of the heartbreaks of this Iraqi venture is that so many people like your son have worked so hard and given so much for their country, but under-a-commander in chief who has failed them so badly. I hope your son has returned home and is in good health.


Anonymous (not verified) | November 12, 2008 - 3:05pm

The Washington Post: Inspector General for Iraq Under Investigation (Dec. 2007)

Over the past four years, Inspector General Stuart W. Bowen Jr. and his staff have probed allegations of waste and fraud in the $22 billion U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq. Their work has led to arrests, indictments and millions of dollars in fines. And it has earned Bowen, who had been a legal adviser to President Bush, many admirers among both parties on Capitol Hill for his efforts to identify overspending and mismanagement.

But Bowen’s office has also been roiled by allegations of its own overspending and mismanagement. Current and former employees have complained about overtime policies that allowed 10 staff members to earn more than $250,000 each last year. They have questioned the oversight of a $3.5 million book project about Iraq’s reconstruction modeled after the 9/11 Commission report. And they have alleged that Bowen and his deputy have improperly snooped into their staff’s e-mail messages.

The employee allegations have prompted four government probes into the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), including an investigation by the FBI and federal prosecutors into the agency’s financial practices and claims of e-mail monitoring, according to law enforcement sources and SIGIR staff members. Federal prosecutors have presented evidence of alleged wrongdoing to a grand jury in Virginia, which has subpoenaed SIGIR for thousands of pages of financial documents, contracts, personnel records and correspondence, several sources familiar with the probe said.


susan | November 13, 2008 - 1:22am

Anonymous #2. First of all, Bowen was a legal advisor to Bush. We know what happened to Bush's other former staffers who became disenchanted and broke rank. Hell has no wrath like an imperial president scorned.
But, Bowen never broke rank. He did his job, and apparently is still doing his job, so they tried to shoot the messenger. Besides, compared to the missing billions in Iraq, this is petty misdemeanor stuff.
But, petty or not, I agree, it should be taken seriously if true. Then I noticed that your breaking news from the Washington Post is nearly one year old. And in the last paragraph, there seems to be an awful lot of probes (can we just retire that word?) and subpoenas and inquiries and grand juries going on, but -- wha' happened? Has there been no follow-up? No outcome yet? Or, did Mr. Bowen take a page from his boss's book (he was legal counsel, recall) and simply ignore them all? Seriously, don't leave me hangin' here. How does the story end?


Poet (not verified) | November 16, 2008 - 7:20pm

Susan, this is so perfect! We get Joe the plumber to go over there and fix that messed up plumbing real good, he makes multiple millions of dollars on the job, then with the new tax codes being passed to up the ante of tax revenue from those with such extravagant wealth we get a big chunk of it back, and now Joe gets to pout and say "I told you so".

Maybe karma works after all. Hmmm