When the encyclopaedia of Bush administration misfeasance in Iraq is compiled, it will have to include a lengthy section on the contracting fiascos that wasted billions of taxpayer dollars in the name of rebuilding the country.

It isn’t only money that was lost. Washington’s disgraceful failure to deliver on its promises to restore electricity, water and oil distribution, and to rebuild education and health facilities, turned millions of once sympathetic Iraqis against the American presence.

The latest contracting revelations came on Tuesday. The office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction reviewed records covering $1.3 billion that Congress voted for Iraq reconstruction. Reported overhead costs ran from a low of 11 per cent for several contracts to a high of 55 per cent. On similar projects in the US, overhead is typically just a few per cent.

As Americans now look for explanations of how things went so horribly wrong in Iraq, they should not overlook the shameful breakdowns in reconstruction contracting.

They need to insist that Congress impose tough new rules on the Pentagon to ensure more competitive bidding, tighter contract writing and more rigorous supervision. That is the best way to ensure that such a costly and damaging failure never happens again.