Senior U.S. officials responsible for the $21 billion Iraq reconstruction project say work is continuing, in spite of insurgent attacks, and the situation has improved in recent months. The officials spoke from Baghdad to reporters at the Pentagon.
The officials say they have already spent more than one-quarter of the money allocated for reconstruction projects throughout Iraq, ranging from power plants to water and sewerage systems to schools and military bases. The officials say they will soon launch the 2,000th project of the effort, with nearly 600 projects already completed.
The head of the Pentagon's Project Contracting Office, Charles Hess, says the effort to rebuild Iraq's facilities has accelerated lately, as insurgent attacks have been reduced.
"We are able to construct and work in many areas of the country, and, in fact, my sense is that, I won't say everything is improving, but clearly, it seems like we have, in fact, the ability to do a lot of work in multiple areas that we didn't necessarily have that opportunity before," Mr. Hess.
But Mr. Hess also believes the insurgents still view construction projects as key targets in their effort to hurt the ability of the new government and the coalition to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis.
"While I'm encouraged, I certainly don't think that the worst is over,” added Mr. Hess. “My suspicion is that the insurgents will regroup and try and figure out other ways to get at the heart of the infrastructure, and get at the heart of the democratic process that the Iraqis are trying to institute. But for right now, I think progress can be made."
Officials say the areas where work was not possible in the past, but is proceeding now, include the city of Fallujah, where U.S. forces launched a major offensive against the insurgents last year, and the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, where security forces also conducted a major operation. The senior U.S. army general on the reconstruction team says 12,000 Iraqis are now working on building projects in Sadr City.
Mr. Hess, the head of the Iraq reconstruction project, says the effort to build Iraq's electrical generation capacity has been particularly delayed by attacks. Mr. Hess and other officials say Iraq's power plants are currently producing about 75 percent of the country's pre-war electricity demand, but the demand has increased substantially, as Iraqis have purchased more electrical appliances. The result is that only about half of the needed power is being produced. The officials blame poor maintenance of old equipment under the previous government for part of the problem.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hess says, work is continuing daily to improve the situation, thanks in part to the work of Iraqi and foreign civilian workers.
"What we see typically is, we'll go into a city like, say, Samara. Work will commence. Perhaps, there will be some type of attack somewhere in the city. For a short time, contractors will decide not to show up on site,” he noted. “But that usually only lasts a relatively short amount of time, and then they're back to work. There are some impacts, but clearly they are willing to come back out and risk their lives to get the work done."
Officials say short delays in projects are typical, with about 10 percent experiencing delays of two weeks or more.