US pumps cash into prisons as Iraq crumbles

By Sue Pleming

The only extra US funding for Iraq next year will be for new prisons, officials have revealed, as America continues to cut federal money for reconstruction.

State Department co-ordinator James Jeffrey said he would ask Congress for US$100 million ($151 million) extra for prisons, but it would be the only request for additional funds in 2006 and 2007 as the US winds down its US$20 billion ($30.2 billion) reconstruction scheme.

"This is the one bit of construction we will be doing - US$100 million for additional bed capacity for the Iraqi legal system," he said.

Early reconstruction programmes put much focus on giant electricity and water projects. Many of those were later scaled back and funds diverted to training Iraq's security forces to tackle the insurgency.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was grilled by Congress last month over the rebuilding programme in Iraq, where water, sewerage and electricity services are worse than they were before the US invasion despite the billions of dollars the United States has poured into those sectors.

Jeffrey said the money would be used to move detainees from US bases to Iraqi prisons and increase the number of prosecutors and "corrections advisers".

"We have another programme to continue support, protection and hardening of facilities and such for the judges who are exposing their lives," he said.

Experts on Iraq reconstruction said it was notable that the only new rebuilding money was for prisons after the public relations disaster caused by the eruption of the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison where US forces abused Iraqi inmates.

"For a country like the United States that is promoting the advancement of freedom, building jails is not necessarily your best image," said Rick Barton of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

The initial goal of the American rebuilding programme was to improve the lives of Iraqis by fixing the country's dilapidated infrastructure and polish the United States' image at the same time.

Barton said the budget requests were in line with American efforts to wrap up existing projects, many of which have not reached their targets, and to use remaining funds to help Iraq sustain that work rather than launch new projects.

The Bush Administration came under heavy criticism for handing out giant contracts to US firms with close Government ties such as oil services company Halliburton, which was once run by Vice President Dick Cheney.

With the insurgency curbing rebuilding and funds being redirected to bolster Iraq's security forces, many of these contracts have not produced "value for money".

Among other budget requests was US$287 million to improve security for Iraq's oil and electricity sectors, which involved burying pipelines, putting up fences and watchtowers and training guards, said Jeffrey.



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