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Iraqi Reconstruction Shows Progress

In Iraq, violence continues to undermine security and stability. But in some areas of the country there has been progress. The recent election is being praised as another step toward real democracy. And as VOA's Brian Padden reports, sectors of the Iraqi economy are rebuilding, particularly in agriculture, thanks to development projects.

"We came here today to commemorate one million man hours on this site worked without a recordable accident," said Lieutenant Colonel Victor Zillmer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

In the Northern, Iraqi city of Irbil, construction continues on this new $150 million water treatment facility, which will provide safe drinking water for 450,000 people. Colonel Zillmer says it is the largest of many projects that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been working on throughout Iraq.

"I have $466 million of ongoing construction all together, and about 200 projects."

In addition to rebuilding basic infrastructure, U.S. aid money is helping restore and encourage the private sector, especially in the field of agriculture. Over $150 million is being spent to fix tractors that have fallen into disrepair during more than 20 years of war and sanctions.

Sangir Nafeu, manager of a tractor repair workshop in Erbil, says they have repaired over 45 tractors in the last month. "At least half the tractors surveyed in Erbil and Kirkuk and Sulymania will have their engines repaired."

Experts say the project will help farmers, such as Sadeeq Osman, cultivate over 13 percent more land. "Of course it will have great impact on the level of production. It is like brand new again."

The project is also creating new jobs by training mechanics and establishing dealerships to eventually replace old tractors with new ones. New technology is also being introduced to help farmers increase efficiency and yield well beyond pre-war levels. This farmer we spoke to is now using one of many new mechanical planters to seed his field.

"Before it took ten hours, now it takes two hours," he said.

And 174 seed cleaning machines have been installed at sites throughout Iraq. Each machine costs $13,000. It is relatively simple technology that separates wheat from barely and good seed from bad seed by weight and size. This project could potentially increase crop production by 30 percent. These projects are most apparent in the relatively peaceful Kurdish region of Iraq, but aid workers say they are being duplicated throughout the country. While experts say most farmers immediately see the benefit of this project, a farmer who lives across the road from a seed cleaning station is refusing to participate in the program.

"The government never gave me anything,” he says, “so why should I go?"

The Kurdish region Minister of Agriculture, Aziz Malla, says these million-dollar projects are helpful but the U.S. is hesitant to commit the billions needed to build dams to irrigate the land and make a real difference here.

“We have 36 proposals for dams, which would have great impact on agriculture production and irrigation.”

The resistance to building dams may be as much political as financial because the rivers flow north to south. And more water for the north could mean less for the rest of the country. But any focus on development, even these smaller scale projects, is seen by many here as a sign of real progress.