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The Washington Post analyzed more than 26,000 projects recorded in the Iraq Reconstruction Management System, a consolidated database maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers to track reconstruction efforts across agencies. The database was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and contains records beginning in 2004 and ending in early June.

Officials have cautioned that the database is not the definitive record of spending. But reviews conducted by both the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction and the Government Accountability Office have concluded that the Commander's Emergency Response Program records are generally accurate and are sufficient for analysis. Interviews with officials in Iraq, including the comptroller of multinational forces in Iraq, indicated that data from before 2005 and very recent information is incomplete. In addition, categorizations of individual items, such as "water and sewer" or "battle damage," are preliminary in the database and may have been subsequently changed.

The Post used "obligated expenditures" as the amounts of contracts. This is a promise by the government to pay and indicates that the money is unavailable for other uses. It is the figure usually used in government reporting systems. However, not all of these projects were completed, and not all of the money was eventually paid. Projects are counted in the Post's analysis when the contract was awarded, which coincides with that promise to pay.

When possible, individual projects were confirmed with people involved in their execution, by cross-referencing them with documents provided to Congress, and by reviewing press releases from the government.

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