Reconstruction Funds Flow Into Iraq, Projects Move Forward
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2004 The pace of reconstruction projects is picking up in Iraq as officials make commitments for the $18.44 billion Congress allotted to the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund.
Army officials responsible for managing reconstruction programs and administering contracts said today that they have so far committed -- or set aside for specific projects -- $10.5 billion in reconstruction monies.
Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee briefed reporters in the Pentagon today that $7.7 billion are already obligated, "which means we have actually signed contracts." He added that officials also already have more than $1 billion in "construction work in the ground."
"Now, I think that's even impressive if it were done back here in the United States," Brownlee said. "And clearly, it's more difficult to do in Iraq."
Brownlee spoke for just a few minutes before handing the briefing over to two reconstruction officials on the ground in Iraq available to reporters via a video link. Charles Hess, director of the U.S. Army's Iraq Project and Contracting Office, and Ambassador Bill Taylor, director of the U.S. Embassy's Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, took questions on the pace and scope of reconstruction projects in Iraq.
Hess likened reconstructing Iraq to dealing with a disaster in the United States. "But this is sort of a long-standing disaster," he said. "The infrastructure has not been managed effectively; it's been left to deteriorate. Clearly some areas of the country have not received the kind of infrastructure support and public works that we would expect back in the United States."
The pace of reconstruction projects has changed in recent months. Hess explained that up until "several months ago," the focus has been on getting funds obligated and contracts signed. "And now, clearly, our focus has turned, and rightly so," he said. The focus now is on "actually putting construction in the ground and starting construction projects."
He said officials hope to have 1,000 projects started -- and many completed -- by the end of this year. Currently, 700 projects under the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund are in progress throughout the country.
Taylor shared some statistics: Today in Iraq there are 28 water-treatment plants, 13 sewer projects, 72 health-care facilities, 5 public buildings, 62 "border ports," 9 fire stations, 37 electricity substations, and nine military bases under construction.
Five water-treatment plants, one sewer project, and 73 health-care facilities have been completed.
In addition, Taylor said, 3,100 schools have been "rehabilitated," and 39,000 police, 14,000 border police, three battalions of regular-army soldiers and eight battalions of National Guard soldiers have been trained and equipped.
Aside from the tangible benefits of improved infrastructure, using the reconstruction funds helps the country in other ways too. About 80,000 Iraqis are employed on these U.S.-funded reconstruction projects, Hess said. "That's a tremendous number of individuals who are providing food for their families and putting some bread on the table," he said.
Hess explained that the Project and Contracting Office has three main goals in Iraq: to improve the infrastructure, to boost Iraqi employment and long-term economic recovery, and to build capacity among Iraqi engineering and construction professionals.
"My hope is that what we do in the Project and Contracting Office is to add value to the people of Iraq, as well as to assure that the money that was invested by the Congress, in the form of American taxpayer dollars, is expended wisely," he said. "And that's what we're all about."