Iraq Reconstruction Moving Ahead Again
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 25, 2004 Security challenges in Iraq put a significant wrinkle into reconstruction efforts in early spring, but work is once again progressing rapidly on $5 billion in contracts awarded in March, the U.S. head of reconstruction in Iraq told Pentagon reporters May 24.
Retired Navy Rear Adm. David J. Nash, director of the Iraq Program Management Office in Baghdad, said rebuilding continued throughout the tumultuous April 9 timeframe, even when 75 percent of the Iraqi workforce stopped showing up for work due to security concerns.
At that point, only about 25 percent of the 10,000 Iraqis involved in reconstruction efforts were on the job, but Nash said that the number has steadily increased to between 8,000 and 9,000. "We're moving back very quickly," he noted.
"Security is having an impact on us," he said. "But as I have always said, it would not stop us. It would affect how fast we could build and how much money had to go to security and how much to actual brick-and-mortar construction . But people are still coming to work and we are still building."
Nash said two sectors experiencing the most activity are electricity security, which involves the rebuilding of facilities for the new Iraqi security forces. Other sectors covered by the $5 billion in contracts are water, transportation and communications.
"Right now, we have a total both non-construction and construction over $4 billion obligated, so work is under way," Nash said. "In terms of construction, we have more than $2 billion worth of work started and progressing. And each week, we are putting in place about $50 (million) to $75 million worth of construction (projects)." He said this pace will pick up as more projects get under way.
The focus of the rebuilding is currently in seven cities: Baghdad, Mosul, Salahy al-Din, Fallujah, Ramadi, Baquba and Tikrit. Nash said Najaf and Basra were recently added to the priority list as well.
A new Accelerated Iraqi Reconstruction Program advocated by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, further boosts the reconstruction effort by employing more Iraqis to more quickly initiate projects that will have a major impact on Iraqi communities, Nash explained.
He said he has worked with the military commanders, Coalition Provisional Authority project managers and local government leaders to prioritize projects to be advanced under the program.
So far, Nash said about $130 million in contracts have been awarded through the program to cover more than 40 projects ranging from home loan programs to sewage treatment facility work.
He said he expects the relationships forged with 18 governors throughout Iraq and their councils through this initiative will continue through the June 30 transfer of sovereignty. "This collaboration and building of support right now is going to carry us right through the 1st of July," he said. "July 1st will be another workday for us."
Although many Iraqis wish the rebuilding was happening faster than its current pace, Nash said Iraqis generally support the efforts under way.
"My job is to bring a gift from the people of the United States to the people of Iraq," Nash said. "And that really resonates with them, so I am really enthused and really positive about what I am doing."