Photo: jim.greenhill via flickr
The State Department sent Peter Van Buren to Iraq from 2009 to 2010 as part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team.Van Buren and his group were tasked with helping rebuild the Iraqi economy by providing opportunities to the young that didn’t include attacking U.S. troops.
A few of the absurd projects that received funding by the U.S. were posted in Foreign Policy to coincide with the release of Van Buren’s book on the experience, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People.
It’s things like this that gives government spending a bad name.
In an effort to promote harmony in the centuries old sectarian conflicts plaguing Iraq, the U.S. paid to produce the play Under the Donkey's Shade.
While the actors debate the value of the shade provided by the donkey, the few locals who attended were supposed to learn not to quarrel over minor issues.
The idea was to get Iraqi women to open French bakeries.
Instructors for this class were volunteers. The 10-grand went largely toward ensuring students came to the class by buying them lunch, paying their transportation, and a offering them a stipend.
Student attendance was a must for pictures portraying the success of the project.
In an effort to boost the local economy the Army hired a contractor to pave a stretch of dirt near Salman Pak. The contractor laid down some gravel and pocketed the remaining cash.
The path became the choice travel route for insurgents who made the locals so miserable they appealed to the police for help.
Barricades were put up and any commerce there had been was effectively shuttered.
In an effort to create something pleasant to look at for Sadr City residents, the U.S. commissioned a large mural on the wall of a local gym.
Hoping to grant the citizens a 'sense of normalcy' Van Buren says all they ended up was a group of oiled, homoerotic Steve Reeves musclemen.
This one is as tragic as it is absurd. In the blown up streets of Baghdad the State Department purchased 225 children's bikes with training wheels for impoverished Shiite kids.
With roads so badly destroyed, the bikes were impossible to ride, instead Van Buren saw wheels from the bikes put on wheelchairs for wounded Iraqi children.
The U.S. paid a Baghdad women's association to hold an art contest for local schoolchildren.
Amid refreshments, 12 kids were awarded nominations for the calendar which was distributed within the neighbourhood, but largely to State Department employees.
A sizable group effort between the U.S. Army, the U.S. Agriculture Department, and the State Department purchased computers and Internet service.
The government reported the initiative was meant to allow Iraq vets to rap with their American counterparts, but Van Buren says the real reason for the service was so that people could be shown on TV going to the zoo.
An indicator that life was returning to normal. Online discussions between local vets included whether to keep giving the bears alcohol to mellow them out and whether to keep providing live donkeys to the lions.
Instructed to create the first-ever Baghdad Yellow Pages, Van Buren found 250 businesses in a city of several million people, that had permanent phone numbers.
Stuck with pallets of phone books nobody wanted and with the city too dangerous to drop any off, the U.S. hired a contractor to drop off copies to businesses at $7 a book.
Van Buren says the delivery guy likely dumped most of them behind some building.
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