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US Criticized for Slow Rebuilding in Iraq - 2003-05-21

The United States has come under fire for the slow pace of reconstruction in Iraq. In New York Tuesday, officials of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) defended the progress made so far.

The U.S. Congress has set aside $1.7 billion for civilian agencies to begin rebuilding Iraqi schools, hospitals, water and sewer plants, and so on. USAID is handling much of the work. Critics have complained that USAID is only awarding contracts to American companies.

In a news conference Tuesday, Assistant Administrator Wendy Chamberlin says by law, the prime contractor has to be American. Companies may subcontract with whomever they wish. But she says USAID will not pressure the prime contractors to bring in foreign companies. "We hold our prime [contractor] accountable. Accountable for the work we've contracted them to do," she says. "The moment we begin to tell them they have to pick this company or that company, they can come back and say, oh, the reason we didn't make our mark, we didn't make our objective is because you told us we had to pick X, Y, or Z. We're not going to do that. We cannot do that."

Ms. Chamberlin says there will be other opportunities for foreign companies to work in Iraq -- through the United Nations, for example.

Ms. Chamberlin is a former ambassador to Pakistan. She says officials asked the Iraqis what they wanted fixed first. Schools and hospitals topped the list. But she says there were also some surprises, especially in the southern port city of Umm Qasr.

"One of the first things they wanted for their community was repairs for the soccer field," says Ms. Chamberlin. "But why a soccer field? Because when you get teenage boys off the streets and into schools and onto playing fields playing soccer then they're not beside the road throwing rocks or looting."

But security in the post-war Iraq continues to slow down reconstruction efforts.

State Department Assistant Secretary Gene Dewey says his office has alerted the Pentagon that security would be a problem after Saddam Hussein fell. He told reporters he wishes the U.S.-led coalition forces should have learned the lession from the similar problems with security in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. "It's about time that we stopped just identifying lessons. It would be nice if we could learn some of these lessons from the past and be more ready when these situations come up," he says.

Mr. Dewey says there is work underway to build up the security forces, but it is not going as quickly as he would like. More U.S. troops are on the way, and other countries have also volunteered police forces.