Two Years in Iraq: Pace of Reconstruction Picking Up
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 18, 2005 When coalition forces first arrived here two years ago this month, they found tremendous contrasts in the services the Iraqi people received.
Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's palaces were grand, and his family and those he favored were well-tended with the essential services most Americans take for granted - electricity, potable water and sewage systems among them. Yet practically in their shadow, residents of other towns and villages received spotty or nonexistent services from an infrastructure crippled by decades of neglect.
"Saddam's nest was definitely feathered," said Army Col. Frank Kosich, deputy commander of the Army Corps of Engineers' Gulf Region Division here. In contrast, he said, many Iraqis lived without fresh water or reliable power and had sewage running through their streets at every rainfall.
"We didn't realize how badly the infrastructure had decayed under Saddam Hussein," said a senior U.S. Central Command official. "Iraq's infrastructure - its oil, water and electricity - were rubber-banded and glued together."
Today, restoring Iraq's infrastructure has become a critical component in the path to success in Iraq, and the United States has committed $18.4 billion to the reconstruction effort.
Under the Gulf Region Division's supervision, more than 1,500 reconstruction projects are under way throughout Iraq, with another 650 already completed, Kosich said. Ultimately, the Army Corps of Engineers expects to oversee a projected 2,900 projects -- a "phenomenal increase" over late June, when contractors were "turning dirt" on just 200 projects, he said.
Projects range from large infrastructure projects -- power plants and wastewater and water treatment facilities, and oil projects, for example -- and small-scale projects such as street repairs, new or improved health clinics, schools, and police and fire stations.
Other projects provide vital facilities for Iraq's security forces: military bases for the new Iraqi army and Iraqi National Guard, police stations, ports of entry and border forts, among them, Kosich said.
Examples of the reconstruction projects run the gamut. In Baghdad's Al Ameen district, a new $2.7 million sewage and wastewater project replaces open trenches and malfunctioning lagoons and moves sanitary waste from the neighborhood.
Throughout Iraq, the Corps' Gulf Region Southern District is putting $4 million to work building and furnishing new schools to replace mud-and-reed huts used as schoolhouses for poor children of the country's rural areas. And more than $10 million is being invested in rebuilding and paving almost 200 kilometers of rural village roads in four northern Iraq provinces.
As these and myriad other projects proceed, they're bringing the Iraqis another tangible benefit: jobs and the opportunity to provide for their families. More than 170,000 Iraqis are employed in reconstruction jobs, up about 40,000 from just last month, Kosich said.
There's also the added boost to the Iraqi economy in terms of products and services purchased locally to support the projects.
The result - new and restored structures and services and employment opportunities - is having a strong impact on the Iraqis. "Demand for electricity has gone through the roof" as they begin snatching up televisions, air conditioners and other appliances they never before dreamed of owning, Kosich said.
As the reconstruction effort works to feed this new demand, Kosich said there's strong recognition that the projects under way "show progress and give the Iraqis hope for tomorrow."
And that, Kosich said, is why insurgents have turned to targeting reconstruction efforts. Attacks on work sites, intimidation of workers and other tactics slow the effort and drive up costs due to added security requirements. Kosich said insurgent activity delays 8 percent to 10 percent of reconstruction projects by two or more weeks.
In addition, attacks on transmission lines and oil pipelines have affected the oil flow into electricity-generating plants. This reduces the flow of oil into electrical plans, reducing the power supply.
"It's an impediment," Kosich said. "It's extremely difficult to do reconstruction in an environment that's not benign."
But through the cooperation of the coalition, the Iraqi government and most importantly, the Iraqi people, Kosich said he's confident the Iraqis will soon enjoy essential services that many were denied under the old regime.
"Are we winning hearts and minds?" Kosich said. "I think so. We're help giving them hope for a better future for their country."