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Reconstruction Effort Changing Face of Iraq

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Dec. 12, 2005 – Despite attacks, security concerns and an infrastructure that was degraded beyond expectation, the Iraq reconstruction effort has made tremendous progress, officials here said.

More than 90 percent of the $18 billion that Congress appropriated to rebuild Iraq has been committed to projects around the nation. This is in addition to money the Iraqi government has appropriated.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has deferred $800 million worth of projects until the new government can have input.

The effort is showing tangible results, said Ambassador Dan Speckhard, chief of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office here.

Almost half of all electric power in Iraq is a result of American projects, he said. Almost 3 million Iraqis have clean water thanks to U.S. projects. More than 4.5 million Iraqis benefit from sewage disposal projects the United States has funded.

Last year, the ambassador said, Iraq had a gross domestic product growth of 4 percent, and the country is poised for "double-digit growth" this year. "That sort of growth indicates to me that things are having an effect," he said.

Reconstruction must be viewed in a larger context, Speckhard said. "It cannot be divorced from the economy, political progress or security," he said.

For example, 30,000 new businesses registered with the government in the past year. "And who knows how many unregistered business starts there were?" he said. "There is a huge 'gray market' that brings significant revenue."

The office has made more than 18,000 so-called "micro-loans" for Iraqis to start up businesses. No recipient has defaulted, the ambassador said.

Still, officials said, while the generating capacity for power plants in Iraq is much higher than under Saddam Hussein, demand has increased as well. Iraqis are buying televisions, refrigerators, air conditioners, microwave ovens, cell phones and other power-consuming appliances and putting more demand on the electrical system. Even without terror attacks on the power grid, officials said, generating capacity would not keep pace with demand.

The same is true of water, sanitation and health projects: demand outstrips the capacity to bring the services online.

Iraq has the second-largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia. It also has water - a commodity not in abundance in the Middle East. With its educated work force, Speckhard said, Iraq should be one of the richest countries in the world. But decades of neglect under Saddam severely hurt the country. "If you were one of the elites under Saddam, you did very well," Speckhard said.

The Baathist rulers of Iraq had good roads connecting their houses to main roads, they had 24-hour electricity provided by generators, their water was clean and they didn't have to step through rivers of sewage outside their homes, officials noted.

But the vast majority of people in Iraq - save those in the northern exclusion zone under Kurd control - did not have dependable electricity. "Most people in Iraq didn't have four hours of electricity a day under Saddam," said Army Maj. Gen. Robert Heine, the ambassador's director of operations.

The electricity sector has drawn the most attention. The U. S. devoted about $4 billion to more than 400 projects, according to Iraq Reconstruction Management Office statistics. These projects have added more than 2,700 megawatts of capacity to the system.

In the water and sanitation sector, the U. S. appropriated $2.4 billion to 312 projects completed, under way or planned. For many of the people, this is the first time they have received clean drinking water.

In most areas of Iraq, sewage ran down the streets. U.S. help has allowed roughly 5 million people so far to hook in to sewage lines.

Health and education projects have vaccinated 5 million children against a variety of diseases. The projects have renovated or built 700 schools. The office has provided funding to train 36,000 teachers and buy 7 million textbooks.

The fund has renovated 248 primary health centers and equipped 563. The office also is funding renovations for hospitals providing "tertiary care" - the highest level of care. Two of these renovations have been completed, and 18 continue. When finished, these projects will provide tertiary care to almost 5 million people.

In the future, the office will work through provincial reconstruction teams.

But the key, Speckhard said, is that this process will take time. "We are changing the processes and systems away from a dictatorship," he said. "By any measurement, Iraqis have it better today than under Saddam. But it's a slow change, and they want to move much faster."

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