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More problems at Abu Ghraib – not the prison, the dairy factory

So much discussion of the Iraqi town of Abu Ghraib focuses on the notorious Hussein-era dungeon there and the abuses by American soldiers, that the nearby powdered milk factory goes largely unnoticed. But not by the Special Inspector General on Iraq Reconstruction, which is all over the situation. "Milk is essential in a balanced diet, ...

Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction
Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction
Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction

So much discussion of the Iraqi town of Abu Ghraib focuses on the notorious Hussein-era dungeon there and the abuses by American soldiers, that the nearby powdered milk factory goes largely unnoticed. But not by the Special Inspector General on Iraq Reconstruction, which is all over the situation.

"Milk is essential in a balanced diet, especially for a country like Iraq, with an increasing overall population, a large youth population, and a high fertility rate," reads the newest SIGIR report, "However, Iraq does not have the resources necessary to provide dairy products to its increasing population."

So much discussion of the Iraqi town of Abu Ghraib focuses on the notorious Hussein-era dungeon there and the abuses by American soldiers, that the nearby powdered milk factory goes largely unnoticed. But not by the Special Inspector General on Iraq Reconstruction, which is all over the situation.

"Milk is essential in a balanced diet, especially for a country like Iraq, with an increasing overall population, a large youth population, and a high fertility rate," reads the newest SIGIR report, "However, Iraq does not have the resources necessary to provide dairy products to its increasing population."

Good to know. The report is filled with all sorts of interesting facts about those lactose seeking Iraqis. For example, Iraqis consume 120,000 – 200,000 tons of powdered milk each year, according to USAID.

Still, Iraqis drink roughly half the milk of other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, so powdered milk is really important. And here’s the rub: The better the conditions in Iraq get, the more milk they are going to need.

So what else did SIGIR find out? Well, apparently the Iraqi Freedom Fund, a taxpayer funded pool of money, gave $3.4 million to construct a facility that could house new powdered milk production equipment that had sat uninstalled since before the 2003 invasion.

That’s when the problems began. First of all, the contracting authority didn’t provide enough detailed instructions to the contractor and "allowed the contractor to begin construction with an inadequate design." Next, the contractor didn’t properly account for how the factory addition would handle things like plumbing and power.

Oh, and by the way, the walls aren’t structurally sound, the steel beams are bending already, the floor is completely uneven, and the roof could cave in if there is too much wind or rain, SIGIR reported.

"This project had no oversight when we went out to visit it and we discovered that the design was flawed and could have resulted in the eventual collapse of the roof," said Special Inspector General Stuart Bowen, in an interview with The Cable.

The SIGIR investigation prompted a complete revamping of the building plan so now the roof won’t fall in, he said, adding that such building design problems were prevalent in several of the inspections SIGIR has conducted.

Nice work, SIGIR! They also turned up this interesting bit of UN trivia. Did you know that the Abu Ghraib milk factory was also the target of an inspection only one month before the invasion?

"In February 2003, monitors from the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission made a surprise visit to the Abu Ghraib Dairy Plant in search of signs of biological weapons.  The monitors took samples from the dairy plant equipment, but did not report finding any biological weapons at the dairy plant site."

Poison milk, eh? I’m beginning to understand why no one ever found those WMDs.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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