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Official Reports Progress in Iraq's Reconstruction, Economic Development

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2006 – Over the past three years Iraq has witnessed a tremendous boom in reconstruction and economic development, the U.S. director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office said.

"It's useful to remember where we were in 2003 with liberation," Ambassador Daniel Speckhard said during a press conference in Baghdad March 24. "In 2003, Iraq had the highest debt ... as a share of gross domestic product in the world. And today about two-thirds of that debt has been written off as a result of the support by the international community."

Iraq's per capita income had fallen from around $4,200 per person in 1980, which at the time was higher than Spain, to $500 per person in March 2003, he said. Today it stands at $1,200 -- "a significant advancement in a very short time," Speckhard said.

"The country was a one-man dictatorship, a completely controlled society, no free press, no access to outside information, no voice for the people in their government or their future," he said. "Today we've had ... national elections, with the last national election having participation by 75 percent of the population and broad participation across sectarian and ethnic lines."

Speckhard pointed out that Iraq now has a free press, more than 2,000 Internet cafes, and more than 5 million cell phone users -- up from virtually zero in 2003. All of these things help connect Iraq to the outside world "in ways that it never was before, providing freedom and opportunities for Iraqi citizens," he said.

The Iraqi infrastructure was on the verge of collapse in 2003, he said, but thanks to U.S. aid, rebuilding projects have moved forward at a tremendous clip. "The World Bank in 2003 estimating there was a need for $60 billion in investments in the infrastructure just to bring Iraq back to where it needed to be," he said. "And that's the context in which the U.S. government provided $21 billion in appropriations to support relief and reconstruction in Iraq."

In addition, more than 30,000 Iraqi businesses have been registered in the past year alone, he said.

"If you look out into the streets, ... you'll see a very vibrant economy," Speckhard said. "People (are) buying consumer and durable goods -- refrigerators, air conditioners, televisions and so forth."

He said the demand for electricity has doubled since March 2003, which has presented a significant challenge. "But that's a sign again of the growing economy and the robustness of the economic activity taking place and the freedoms that people are enjoying, which they didn't enjoy in the past to access those goods," he said.

The ambassador emphasized that Iraq is almost at prewar levels in terms of electricity production. The country is now producing 4,100 megawatts of electricity per week compared to 4,300 megawatts before the war, he said.

Nineteen water treatment plants that serve 2.7 million Iraqis also have been built, he said.

Progress has been made on the education front as well, he said. "We have over 3,000 rehabilitation projects in the schools area and have distributed, with the U.N., about 9 million textbooks," he said. "And 36,000 teachers have been trained through programs supporting Iraqi teachers."

A nationwide vaccination program has immunized nearly 100 percent of Iraqi children, he added.

"The U.S. government remains committed to Iraq's future and that we remain committed to continuing our reconstruction efforts and programs and to continue to help Iraqi people during this period of transition," Speckhard said.

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