Today the International Relations Committee held a hearing into waste, fraud and abuse of U.S. resources in the reconstruction of Iraq. The death of the al-Queda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is dramatic news that will hopefully send a strong political signal to all Iraqis that the insurgents will not prevail. But while Zarqawi’s demise will likely have a positive impact on the security situation in Iraq, both symbolically and operationally we must not lull ourselves into a sense of complacency that the job of ensuring a safe and secure Iraq is now near completion. There are many debatable points about our policy toward Iraq, but the gross mismanagement of reconstruction efforts is not one of them. Due to the exceptional work of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the facts are clear: Billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars have been used unwisely in Iraq. The Executive Branch must not allow such slipshod management. And the American people, I am convinced, will not tolerate it.

But this is not just about money. The international coalition’s ability to exit Iraq responsibly, leaving the Iraqi people in better shape than before the war, is directly related to the success of our reconstruction efforts there. But these efforts have been severely undermined by waste, by fraud and by abuse, and our troops have been needlessly exposed to greater risk because of such failures.

We therefore appreciated being able to hold hearing today with our distinguished witnesses, particularly the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Mr. Stuart Bowen. The 23 Democrats on the International Relations Committee unanimously and formally requested this hearing because we believe that Congress has failed to conduct sufficient oversight over the Iraq reconstruction program.

Without descending into the endless debate over the number of hearings held or resolutions raised, we can all agree on one thing: It is imperative that the Executive Branch learn from its mistakes in Iraq, and make dramatic changes to our reconstruction efforts to ensure that we are improving the lives of the Iraqi people.

Thanks to the diligence of the Office of the Special Inspector General, we now know the scope of the problem. Here are the facts: During the reign of the Coalition Provisional Authority, almost nine billion dollars – that’s nine billion, with a "b" -- moved through Iraqi ministries with little or no accounting for results. In another shocking instance in South-Central Iraq, managers of the Coalition Provisional Authority funds could not account for nearly one hundred million dollars in cash and receipts. Where did the rest of the money go? It’s as if the CPA were dumping suitcases of taxpayer dollars into quicksand.

Recent court documents might indicate where some of the money went: One of two defendants arrested in connection with the waste and abuse pled guilty to accepting stolen CPA and U.S. property in Iraq and using it to operate a business. He secretly provided public officials things of value such as first class airplane tickets, jewelry and prostitutes at a villa in Baghdad. Another defendant, while serving as a comptroller for the CPA, stole at least two million dollars in U.S. currency designated to be used for reconstruction in Iraq, and conspired to transfer it to the bank accounts of others. One of these two thieves sent an e-mail to the other in January 2004 that closed with the observation, "I love to give you money."

The gross mismanagement of our Iraq reconstruction efforts has not ended with the demise of the CPA. In a recent report, the Special Inspector General found that the United States continued to fund the restoration of 16 oil pipelines under the Tigris River despite persistent warnings from geologists that the soil was not conducive to drilling. And we allocated nearly two hundred million dollars for primary health care centers, but completed only 6 out of the 150 clinics intended to be built with these funds.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. More than 75% of oil and gas reconstruction projects begun with U.S. assistance remain incomplete. More than 50% of electricity reconstruction projects are still unfinished, along with 40 % of water and sanitation reconstruction projects. Instead of ensuring that these vitally important projects are finished, the House just approved a budget resolution on a totally partisan vote that slashed one billion dollars from Iraq reconstruction.

We all recognize the reconstruction of Iraq cannot be achieved overnight, easily, or on the cheap. But the alarmingly slow pace of Iraq reconstruction, and the misuse of U.S. and Iraqi funds, have serious repercussions for our own national security. Insurgents have capitalized on popular resentment and anger towards the United States and the Iraqi government to build their own political, financial and military support, and the faith of Iraqi citizens in their new government has been severely undermined. The corruption and incompetence surrounding the rebuilding of Iraq has badly damaged our image abroad, not just in Iraq, but throughout the world.

Money wasted on reconstruction boondoggles could have also been better spent on protecting American and Iraqi troops from insurgents.

Unless we show the Iraqi people that their liberation has brought tangible benefits – or at the very least the restoration of essential services to pre-war levels -- key factions will continue to side with the insurgents, and not with the forces of freedom. And until we succeed in training enough Iraqi forces to secure their nation independently, we risk leaving a destabilized Iraq.

Therefore, the Executive Branch must listen closely to the recommendations of the Special Inspector General and other expert voices on how to overhaul our reconstruction efforts. And we must simultaneously redouble our efforts to create a truly sustainable Iraqi army and police.

And given Mr. Bowen’s success in uncovering waste and fraud and abuse, I find it shocking that this House is prematurely curtailing his mission. We should be increasing Mr. Bowen’s capacity to do oversight, not weakening it.

We know these are not simple tasks. But the goal we all seek – a stable Iraq at peace with its neighbors – will remain elusive until we improve both the security and the economic environment in Iraq. And although the Executive Branch is charged with this responsibility, we in Congress clearly need to ensure that the job is done right.