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Iraq Reconstruction Effort Moves Forward

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 2005 – While Iraq's political process moves forward and its security forces become more capable, a less dramatic but equally critical effort is under way and proceeding steadily, a defense official said today.

Iraq is awhirl with activity as the country works with the help of the Iraq Project Contracting Office to repair and ultimately take over the management of its infrastructure systems, Sheryl Lewis, the office's capacity development program manager, said during an interview with the Pentagon Channel.

The Iraq Project and Contracting Office contracts for and delivers services, supplies and infrastructure identified within the $18.4 billion Iraqi Relief and Reconstruction Fund Congress authorized in 2003.

The three-year program is responsible for projects throughout Iraq's 18 provinces. In addition to giving the Iraqis a foundation for rebuilding infrastructure in several critical areas, it creates jobs and helps eliminate unemployment, officials said.

Lewis maintains a database that tracks contractor and subcontractor activity involving four major sectors: oil; electricity; public works and water; and facilities, transportation, communication, health and education.

"We get a very good picture of what each contractor is doing and how well they are doing in meeting their goals," she said. "There are a lot of good-news stories coming out of this."

The U.S. government, recognizing the link between reestablishing these sectors and Iraq's emergence as a stable, secure country, has been deeply involved in these reconstruction efforts for more than two years.

Officials cite Iraq's oil industry, which provides 94 percent of the Iraqi government's revenues, as one of the most important focuses. Revenues generated through oil exports are key to the success of all government ministries that provide essential infrastructure services to the Iraqi people, they point out.

But steady progress is evident in all four sectors, with long-neglected systems receiving essential maintenance and repairs and Iraqis training to take over the systems in the future, Lewis said.

Some of the concepts covered in the training are relatively new to the Iraqis, who often operated under a "run-it- until-it-breaks" philosophy under former dictator Saddam Hussein or jury-rigged systems rather than fix them to keep them operating, Lewis acknowledged.

"You're changing attitudes," she said of the training. "And you are changing ways of doing things that have been there for 20 or 30 years under Saddam's regime."

Changing those behaviors "is going to be a very long-term project," Lewis acknowledged. "It's not something that's going to change overnight."

Lewis said she's impressed by Iraqis' hard work and commitment as they ensure their facilities are sustainable and that they have the skills they need to keep them operational.

"You know that there's potential there. They are smart people. They really are hard-working," Lewis said, adding that Iraqis want to reestablish their infrastructure systems and bring them up to capacity.

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