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'Incredible Progress' Made Restoring Iraq's Infrastructure, Officials Say

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 7, 2003 – Iraq's electrical system and other key infrastructure was all but ruined after years of neglect under Saddam Hussein's rule, but reconstruction efforts are improving life for the country's citizens with each passing day, U.S. officials in Baghdad said July 7.

The main challenge in getting Iraq's infrastructure up to snuff, noted Army Maj. Gen. Carl Strock, the deputy director of operations for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, involves "decades of neglect" by the deposed regime, including lack of investment in operations and maintenance.

Strock, and Andrew Bearpark, the director of regional services for CPA, discussed the challenges and successes in restoring Iraq's infrastructure since the end of the war to Pentagon reporters during a teleconference.

The good news, Strock pointed out, is that combat damage to Iraq's electrical, water and other key infrastructure "was comparatively light" at the conclusion of the war. Coalition military planners made a conscious effort to spare these structures.

However, patchwork methods used by the former regime to prop up a decaying infrastructure has resulted, for example, in an electric-power generation system that was cobbled together with dissimilar components and is prone to frequent failures.

Consequently, restoring Iraq's crippled infrastructure represents "an enormous job," Strock asserted, that will take years to complete. Also, he pointed out, sabotage by Saddam loyalists and looting has compounded the problem.

Yet, U.S., coalition and Iraqi workers have made "incredible progress" in restoring Iraq's infrastructure since the war ended 12 weeks ago, Strock emphasized. "We're engaged in a very wide range of reconstruction and rehabilitation projects all over the country," the two-star general pointed out, noting that over the past six weeks more than $1 billion has been committed for several thousand projects.

Coalition military personnel, American and British international development agencies, non-governmental organizations and the private sector are partnering to restore Iraq's infrastructure, Strock noted.

However, "most importantly the Iraqis themselves," Strock asserted, have dedicated themselves to making their lives better ones now and for the future.

Working under arduous circumstances, "wonderfully competent and remarkably committed" Iraqi public servants are busy serving their people, Strock pointed out, noting, "It really has been gratifying."

Restoring dependable electrical service throughout Iraq is job No. 1 now, Strock noted, because "without it, nothing else works in the country."

Iraq's current creaky electrical generation system is based on 1960s technology that because of inconsistent investment maintenance practices, "has a wide variety of manufacturers and types of systems."

Consequently, Iraq's current power generation system "is very complicated and difficult to maintain," he added.

Although the output capacity of the present Iraqi electrical system is rated at about 7,800 megawatts of power, it can now only generate about 4,500 megawatts, Strock noted, due to its age and deteriorated condition.

The national demand for electrical power in Iraq, Strock said, is now at about 6,000 megawatts. "You can see, right away, there will be shortages of electricity" in Iraq, he explained.

Therefore, he noted, a system featuring rolling blackouts is now being used to distribute electric power to the Iraqi people. Such an electrical distribution system, he continued, "is also very unstable and not very reliable," making it difficult to predict to the Iraqi people when power would be on or off.

The Iraqi power generation system also "relies heavily" on the country's oil refineries, Strock noted. Due to neglect of that system, as well, getting fuel to power generating plants, has also presented a challenge since the war's end.

However, much has been accomplished in restoring Iraq's infrastructure, he noted. For example, Strock pointed out, on April 12 Baghdad had no electrical power. Today, 39,000 Iraqi electrical workers are back on the job, and about 3,200 megawatts are being produced.

By the end of this month, he added, power production will reach about 4,000 megawatts, about what was available before the war. More power will become available, he said, as additional investment is made.

Drinking water availability continues to increase throughout Iraq, Strock added, noting that 80 percent of the population more than pre-war should have access to drinking water by the end of October 2003. And, no one is going without drinking water, he asserted, noting that tanker trucks and other means are being employed to make up the difference.

Because of the damage done to Baghdad's sewage treatment system during the war, it will be "several months before we are able to get up any level of sewage treatment," Strock said. However, no instances of disease related to lack of sewage treatment have occurred in Baghdad thus far, he stated.

And, there are no significant problems regarding damaged roads and bridges throughout Iraq, Strock maintained. For example, among 10 key bridges that had been destroyed during the war, he noted, five are being rebuilt while temporary military bridges have replaced five others.

The southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr is open for business; with a higher capacity than it's had in many years, Strock noted.

Also, commercial air service is slated to return to Baghdad, for the first time in 12 years, Strock said. The opening of the airports in Basra and Mosul, he added, will eventually follow.

Irrigation and dams are terribly important to agriculture in Iraq, Strock pointed out, noting that a focused program is in place to put 100,000 Iraqis back to work in the next couple of months repairing the country's neglected irrigation system.

Regarding communications improvements, a new fiber-optics network will eventually connect 75 percent of Iraqi users to international telecommunications, Strock said.

Also, Strock noted plans are underway to repair 1,550 Iraqi schools in 12 different cities over the next few months, putting 15,000 Iraqis to work.

Little damage was done to Iraq's oil fields during the war, Strock said. Consequently, he said, the Iraqi oil industry is now up and running. Iraqi revenue from oil sales should reach about $5 billion by the end of the year, Strock noted.

Current efforts to sabotage oil pipelines and other Iraqi infrastructure by remaining Saddam loyalists will dissipate as the country continues to get back on its feet, Strock asserted. The Iraqi people are regarding such attacks as assaults on their livelihood, he said.

Ongoing reconstruction efforts in Iraq has "nothing really to do with war damage," Bearpark, an Englishman, maintained. "What we're talking about is 30 years of criminal neglect of maintenance" by the deposed regime, Bearpark said of the challenge of restoring Iraq's infrastructure.

And, he added, "Then, we have the criminally and politically motivated sabotage of the last few weeks."

Consequently, "it will take a while" to restore Iraq's infrastructure, Bearpark emphasized, noting, for example, that "it will take several years" to build a new power station.

"You can't just build one, overnight," he concluded.

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