- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 8, 2006

BAGHDAD — A small army of American builders and engineers, oilmen and budgeteers in makeshift offices in a former palace is working overtime on last-minute projects to help reconstruct Iraq.

Their time is running short; their money running out.

After three years in which the U.S. government allocated more than $20 billion for Iraq reconstruction, a bill now making its way through Congress adds only $1.6 billion this year, just $100 million of it for construction — not for building schools or power stations, but for prisons.

Does the sharp cut in aid surprise or disappoint the planners here? “Probably both,” said Michael P. Fallon, U.S. reconstruction program chief.

But “the program in general has been very successful,” he said in an interview — “with the caveat that it hasn’t gone as far as we thought we’d be able to go.”

The ambitions of 2003, when President Bush spoke of making Iraq’s infrastructure “the best in the region,” have given way to the shortfalls of 2006, in electricity and water supply, sanitation, health facilities and oil production.

A University of Maryland poll in January found strong majorities of Iraqis hopeful about their country’s future in general, but only one in five thought the Americans had done a good job on reconstruction.

Even after billions were spent on power plants and substations, electricity generation still hasn’t regained the level it had before the U.S. invasion of 2003. When Mr. Fallon’s specialists keep the lights burning late, they’re relying on emergency U.S. generators in their Green Zone enclave, since the rest of Baghdad gets power only a few hours a day.

Barely one-third of the water-treatment projects the Americans planned will be completed. Only 32 percent of the Iraqi population has access to clean drinking water, compared with 50 percent before the war, according to the U.S. special inspector-general for Iraq reconstruction.

About 19 percent of Iraqis today have working sewer connections, compared with 24 percent before 2003.

Oil production, meanwhile, has stagnated, averaging 2.05 million barrels a day in mid-March, short of the 2.5 million-a-day U.S. goal, and far short of Iraq’s production peak of 3.7 million in the 1970s. Fewer than one-quarter of the rehabilitation projects for the oil industry have been completed.

Iraq’s insurgency dealt a major blow to the rebuilding efforts, leading U.S. officials in 2004 to begin siphoning off reconstruction money to help train Iraqi police and military forces, build prisons and pay for private security for projects already under way.

Security concerns continue to be the biggest block to the reconstruction projects. The New York Times reported in its online edition yesterday that an internal staff report by the U.S. Embassy and the military command rated overall stability of six of Iraq’s 18 provinces “serious” and one “critical.” The report was dated Jan. 31.

The newspaper said provinces where overall stability was rated “serious” included Baghdad and oil-rich Basra, where Shi’ite militias wield considerable influence. Anbar province, which includes Ramadi and Fallujah, was rated “critical.”

The reconstruction experience in Iraq has provoked some rethinking in Washington. The New York Times reported yesterday that the State Department’s Office for Reconstruction and Stabilization, in a draft planning document, says the United States should not immediately begin a major rebuilding program after any future wars.

The first priorities should instead be to establish a secure, stable environment and begin political reconciliation, the document said.

The newspaper said Pentagon officials were consulted in drafting the new plan.

Rather than sending more rebuilding money, the U.S. effort this year will shift toward “sustainability” — to an oversight role, to training Iraqis to maintain what has been built, and to urging others to fill the aid gap.

“I think we’ve been pretty clear that we never intended to fix the entire infrastructure,” said Kathye Johnson, Mr. Fallon’s boss as reconstruction director for the U.S. projects agency in Iraq, the Gulf Region Division-Projects and Contracting Office.

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