Officials Provide Update On Iraq Reconstruction
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 4, 2005 Terrorist attacks have hampered the reconstruction process in Iraq, but officials there said today that work to rebuild the country continues.
"My sense is right now we are able to construct and work in many areas of the country," said Charles Hess, director of the Iraq Project and Contracting Office, during a videoconference from Baghdad with the Pentagon press corps here.
"I won't say everything is improving, but clearly it seems like we have, in fact, the ability to do a lot of work in multiple areas that we didn't necessarily have that opportunity before," Hess said. "Not to say that the insurgency is gone, but clearly, by the fact that we have many projects in many areas, we've just been able to continue on," he said.
In their first briefing on reconstruction since January, officials in Baghdad reported that about 2,000 construction projects have been started in Iraq, and that 582 have been finished thus far, including a new health academy that opened March 3 and a new electrical plant.
Officials also reported that construction is under way for military bases for the new Iraqi army and Iraqi National Guard.
"They are essentially the type of facilities that would consist of barracks, dining facilities, training compounds, vehicle maintenance areas and things of that nature that you would find on any kind of typical military cantonment associated with infantry-type activities," Hess said.
Renovations to terminal complexes as well as landing and runway lighting systems for the country's three major airports were also mentioned. And work is also being done at smaller airports in Irbil and Sulimaniyah.
All of this construction has meant a significant increase in dispersing the $18.4 billion Congress allocated for reconstruction projects, Hess noted. About $5.8 billion has been paid out to date, he said, at a rate of $80 million to $100 million per week.
However, with terrorist attacks on Iraqi workers still a problem, Ambassador Bill Taylor, director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, noted that a substantial part of the money spent has had to go toward security for construction projects. He said the some money was used to pay for personal security details for contractors and supervisors, and for such items as armored cars and concertina wire around bases.
"All of that is included in that cost of doing business," Taylor explained. "It's an expensive place to do business, and the security part is in there."
He said the cost of security, in some cases, clearly has exceeded the 5 percent margin that was budgeted; in other cases, he added, it has been less.
Another area that will require more spending will be getting more of the country's electrical power plants up and running, especially as summer approaches. Hess said construction recently finished on a new electrical power station that will add 280 megawatts of electricity, but he noted that may not be enough.
He said one problem in restoring the country's electricity has been that Iraqi engineers have had to focus on getting parts to make necessary repairs on power stations that not operational and had been neglected during Saddam Hussein's regime.
"What the Ministry of Electricity is doing now is actually doing maintenance on many of the plants that have frankly never received the kind of maintenance that has been necessary to maintain them in an operating capacity," he said. "And, unfortunately, to do that maintenance work, you've got to remove those plants from operation, dismantle some of the equipment, refurbish it, and put it back into what we would describe as fully capable operating status."
Hess emphasized the Iraqis aren't dealing with the problem alone. "We've gone out to try and identify the parts, get the parts, and help the ministry get those plants back in operation so that we can achieve some short-term gains here in the electrical infrastructure," he said.
Two new plants are about to come on line in Bayji, Hess said, where insurgents killed one person and kidnapped another. He said workers left the site for a while, but later returned and again are making progress.
"It is still a challenge to get this work done," Hess said. Terrorist attacks do not make the task any easier. Taylor pointed out that attacks on transmission lines and oil pipelines have affected the oil flow into electricity-generating plants. "And when those get attacked, that reduces the flow of oil into the electricity, and that reduces the amount available," he said.
Army Brig. Gen. Thomas Bostick, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division, said Iraq has seen an increased demand for electricity since the country was liberated. "There's a good-news story here," he told reporters. The general said prewar demand for electricity, about 5,000 megawatts, has increased 60 percent to about 8,000 megawatts. "That's because the Iraqi people are able to buy televisions and computers and air conditioners and heaters -- things that they couldn't do until democracy and freedom opened up in this country," he explained.
Hess pointed out that he is encouraged by all the reconstruction work that is being done. But, he added, he worries the insurgents will "regroup and then try and figure out other ways to get at the heart of the infrastructure and get at the heart of the democratic process that the Iraqis are trying to institute."
Even so, he said, the mission of rebuilding Iraq will continue. "There are many challenges that remain out there, but the Iraqi people, working with the coalition forces, the great civilians, are doing a wonderful job moving this mission forward," he said.