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Progress Being Made on Iraqi Reconstruction, Official Says

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10, 2006 – Significant progress is being made on Iraqi reconstruction projects, while economic prospects continue to grow, a U.S. official told reporters via telephone from Baghdad yesterday.

"In spite of difficult challenges, significant progress is being made on reconstruction," Ambassador Daniel Speckhard, director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, said, "and in what I see out here, that is having an effect on the Iraqi economy. ... You can't separate these two."

The Iraqi economy is expected to grow by roughly 3 percent this year and by about 10 percent next year. About 30,000 businesses were formally registered in the course of the last year, which shows a "dynamism" that is obvious to the Iraqi people, Speckhard said.

The director said around half of the current electricity being produced in Iraq is the result of coalition rehabilitation projects, and "about 75 percent of the oil production today is the result of rehabilitations that have been done through U.S.-supported projects."

Iraqis are increasingly taking charge of many of these reconstruction efforts, he noted.

"We're getting Iraqis much more involved in the process of making decisions on projects," he said. "The real focus here is trying to accelerate the transition to self-sufficiency in Iraq in terms of their ability to carry the progress forward that we've started."

The office is setting up provincial reconstruction teams that will combine military and civilian engineers, rule-of-law experts, economists, aid directors and contractors to help support the Iraqis in this endeavor, he said.

"We have a program where we're trying to improve training for the operation and maintenance of all of our projects and the ministries technical capacity to support these projects," Speckhard said. He added his office is also working with the government to make sure Iraqis understand the challenges in having proper budget resources to maintain and support the infrastructure the U.S. has helped develop.

The U.S. has also greatly improved the Iraqi water and sewage systems. "When you look at clean water and sewer, we have added capacity for several million Iraqis in water and over 4 million in sewage," he said.

In addition, Speckhard spoke about other U.S. contributions in Iraq, such as the fact that Americans have trained more than 30,000 teachers and provided 8 million new textbooks to Iraqi schools, as well as offered vaccines against measles and polio to more than 5 million children.

The United States has helped with several of the "most pressing needs," in Iraq, like water and electricity, Speckhard said, but he added that reconstruction progress cannot be calculated in isolated sections. "It's all integrated and we will be judged on the integrated package," he said.

"My sense on this is that we'll be judged on how well we are able to support the capacity development of this new permanent Iraqi government," Speckhard said.

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