Cover Story



Issue: "Iraq: Liberation Day 2004," April 10, 2004

"Reconstruction is going exceptionally well," said a U.S. official in Baghdad who, citing security reasons, asked not to be identified. "The vast majority of Iraqis appreciate what the United States is doing. But the population is deliberately fragmented, the element of distrust that works in favor of a dictator is still there."

Wartime damage -- downed bridges, burst water mains, cratered roads -- has been compounded by longer-term neglect of the country's infrastructure. With some power grids down, sewage systems overflowing, and oil supplies disrupted, macro-development has required macro-attention from civilian authorities for the last year -- and $20 billion in U.S. supplemental funding.

(Other sources have agreed to pony up also. The UN's now scandalized Oil for Food program has in recent months returned proceeds from oil export sales, about $1 billion out of $60 billion still unaccounted for; the U.S. Treasury has released for humanitarian projects nearly $2 billion in frozen assets from Saddam-tainted accounts in U.S. banks; and funds seized by coalition forces in Iraq already have been turned to development projects.)

Working with California-based contractor Bechtel, for example, the coalition has restored electricity, for several months now surpassing Iraq's pre-war power levels. That means most Iraqis have power, but not all the time. Three hours on/three hours off rotation cycles continue, a policy insiders call "sharing the pain" to avoid widespread blackouts. With Iraq's electricity ministry awarding contracts worth $3 billion to build new power stations and upgrade existing ones, planners hope for full-fledged, on-demand power by year's end.

Likewise oil production is underway with a cooperative effort from international firms working under both Iraq's new oil ministry and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In Kirkuk's heavily guarded oilfields, workers use mostly 1950s-era machinery to pump 500,000 barrels per day for delivery via a recently repaired pipeline to the Mediterranean. To rev the northern fields to produce at just above half capacity, engineers put out fires, recovered more than $14 million in stolen equipment, and remapped pipeline grids that were sabotaged or had fallen dormant under Saddam.

In the south, a Bethesda contractor is working with an Iraqi-owned nonprofit to restore marshlands. Once famously drained by Saddam to flush out Marsh Arabs who opposed his regime, the wetlands project is restoring not only ecological balance but also fisheries and agribusiness potential. "The oil industry is not the economic base for most Iraqis, whereas agriculture is," said the U.S. official.

In some cases, multimillion-dollar contracts make it harder for smaller charities to find a meaningful place in Iraq's restoration. But gaps abound for private niche nonprofits, including Christian relief groups, if they can successfully navigate the CPA's contract gantlet. Many humanitarian organizations, particularly European-based groups, fled after the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad last August and again after terrorists bombed Red Cross offices in October. They vacated important social-service needs like healthcare, education, and small-business development.

In the north one newcomer, Health Care Partnerships, borrowed a strategy that's worked in rural Appalachia to spread medical care across isolated regions where more than 2 million Iraqis live. Working with CPA, the Tennessee group is donating 45 satellite systems to link healthcare officials with medical schools, hospitals, and rural health clinics. This month the group is installing transmission repeaters atop northern Iraq's mountains to connect the system. "This place will be better wired than France," said field operations director Douglas Layton.

Once the system is complete, healthcare workers will pool medical expertise and consult across the region on everything from a diagnosis to cancer screening to pharmaceutical supplies. It's a system that can be expanded to serve schools and local governments, as well as other regions.

"We are trying to avoid the mistakes of most NGOs who put band-aids on broken systems and waste money on seminars," said Mr. Layton. He hires locals to run the projects and subcontracts with Iraqi charities -- including churches -- to further improve care. Health Care Partnerships recently donated equipment for a mobile dental clinic to the National Evangelical Church in Kirkuk. The church plans to run the clinic as an outreach ministry serving isolated villages and to share costs with local governments. The church is also jump-starting citywide garbage collection using church volunteers and U.S. donations.

"When I came back to Kirkuk it reminded me of a little old sick lady," said former pastor Yussif Matty, who was forced to leave his hometown after the Gulf War. "In 12 years it had had no sanitation, no improvements to infrastructure, in this, what should be one of the richest cities in the world."


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