Iraq Reconstruction Progresses
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2004 Despite security concerns and intimidation by insurgents, Iraq's reconstruction continues, with thousands of construction projects started and thousands more Iraqis showing up for work.
"Intimidation is a big problem; it does happen," said Charles Hess, who heads the Iraq Project and Contracting Office, during a Pentagon news briefing today. "Iraqi supervisors and managers of firms have been threatened, and in fact we've had family members killed."
However, he added, "even though that is happening, these firms and their employees are still willing to come to work. They still value what the reconstruction is doing for them and their country."
Hess told reporters that "even though the situation is difficult, even though the security environment is not what we'd like it to be, progress is being made on the construction side of our business."
He cited figures showing 1,167 new project starts to date, with an average of 70 to 100 new construction starts per week. About 300 projects have been completed, and Hess said he expects to have at least 1,400 projects finished by year's end.
Also, he said, the PCO has disbursed about $2 billion of the $10 billion obligated thus far for Iraq's reconstruction. That figure, he pointed out, is a significant increase from the $721 million that had been paid out four months ago.
Most important, Hess said, is the impact construction is having on Iraq's economy. "It's fair to say that a substantial amount of the $2 billion disbursed is going into the local economy," he said. Most companies subcontracted to supply equipment and materials for the reconstruction by U.S. and Western firms are Iraqi, he noted.
About 103,000 Iraqis are working on PCO-related reconstruction projects, Hess said, a number he expects to peak between 140,000 and 150,000 next summer after January's elections. Hess told reporters that Iraqis are willing to work as long as they can do so safely.
Hess acknowledged concern for the Sunni Triangle, where much of violence in Iraq has been reported. It is there, in cities like Samarra, Najaf and Fallujah where little reconstruction has been done.
In Fallujah, he said, his office is "poised to start work there," and plans to begin projects planned before insurgents took control, as soon as military commanders determine "it's acceptable for us to go in."
He said the PCO expects to spend $80 million in reconstruction projects for Fallujah alone, while the interim Iraqi government has allocated an additional $50 million.
For the near term, Hess said, the PCO will focus on operational security measures, "to ensure workers are protected" and to maintain the momentum of construction starts. He also said he hopes to get more Iraqi firms involved in the reconstruction process.