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Rebuilding Iraq: One Tough Assignment
By Karen Fanning

girls playing with water in Samarra, Iraq
Young girls take well water pumped by a generator in Samarra, Iraq, on Friday, July 9, 2004. Samarra residents said that the city was without running water Friday because the municipal water plant was closed, due to the previous day's fighting between insurgents and Americans.
(Photo: Khalid Mohammed/AP Wide World)
July 2004—First, it struggled to emerge from the eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s. Then, it suffered a devastating blow due to the 1990s trade restrictions. Now, an already crippled Iraqi economy is struggling to stage yet another recovery—this time, in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Decades of trouble have left Iraq's infrastructure in a state of disrepair. Last year, the World Bank calculated that it would cost $35 billion over the next four years to fix Iraq's roads, power, and water supply. The cost of restoring the country's electric grid is estimated at $13 billion alone.

Reconstruction, however, has been slow. More than a year into the rebuilding effort, officials admit that less than 140 of the 2,300 scheduled construction projects are up and running. American officials promised 50,000 Iraqis would find work at construction sites before last month's formal transfer of power. However, less than 20,000 were on the job by mid-July.

While meeting deadlines and fulfilling promises has been a challenge, even more alarming has been the outbreak of violence. Frequent bombings and shootings have disrupted work. In some cases, violence has forced foreign contractors to abandon their jobs.

Progress Is Slow

Last year, the U.S. pledged $18.4 billion to rebuild Iraq, but only a small portion of that money—$333 million—has been spent. Many of the projects are still in the planning stages.

More than a year after Saddam Hussein's government was toppled, electrical service has not improved for most Iraqis. In many parts of the country, residents have electricity for just eight hours a day. The United Nations predicts it could be four or five years before 90 percent of the population has a regular supply of electricity.


road construction
Two Iraqi workers sit in the cockpit of a leveling machine as they work on July 5, 2004, widening a road southeast of Baghdad.
(Photo: Saeed Khan/AFP Photo/Getty Images)
Iraq's water and sanitation systems have been victim to bomb damage, looting, and power cuts. With water treatment facilities across Iraq only operating at 65 percent of their pre-war capacity, safe drinking water is unavailable to many residents.

While progress has been slow in many sectors, the fruits of hard work and determination can be seen in Iraq's educational system. During and after the war, more than 3,000 schools were looted, destroyed, or torched in southern and central Iraq. In Baghdad, 60 endured bomb damage.

Since then, 2,500 schools have been restored, according to the Coalition Provisional Authority. School attendance climbed to more than 95 percent during this year's national exam week, up from 60 percent immediately after the war.

Despite continued attacks by insurgents, workers like David J. Nash remain determined to rebuild Iraq.

"Some of the power plants may get blown up," says Nash, a retired Rear Admiral who directs the American building program. "But we're not going to stop."