Officials pleased with results of effort to rebuild Iraq
Stars and Stripes December 16, 2004
WASHINGTON — Despite a virtual standstill of reconstruction efforts in the areas of Iraq hardest hit by insurgents, U.S. officials on Wednesday said they were pleased with the overall rebuilding effort in the country.
Charles Hess, director of the U.S. Project and Contracting Office, told reporters that about $14 billion of the $18.4 billion assigned by Congress for reconstruction has been earmarked for specific projects, and work has begun on 70 percent of those. “We’re now starting to see the results of some of our efforts,” he said.
“Even though the situation is difficult, even though the security environment is not what we’d like it to be, progress is being made on the construction side,” he said. “We’re now starting to see the results of some of our efforts.”
Reconstruction teams passed the 1,000-project mark in late November, and are on pace to hit 1,200 by the end of the year.
But so far little work has begun in the Sunni Triangle, and U.S. officials have not spent any of the $80 million they have set aside for construction projects in Fallujah, Hess said.
“We’re working with commanders to go into cities that have been removed from insurgent hands, specifically at the time and place they say it’s safe to go in there,” he said. “We intend to continue on still executing the programs that we have, unless the facilities we were going to restore don’t happen to be there any more.”
Hess also expects a sharp increase in completed construction over the next four months. Contractors typically don’t receive the bulk of their payments until projects are finished, and only about $2 billion of the reconstruction funds have been paid out.
Hess estimated that more than 103,000 Iraqis are employed in the construction.
Those numbers dropped significantly at the start of Ramadan, based on fears of terrorist attacks during the holy month, and have fluctuated based on violence throughout the country. Hess said less than 5 percent of construction sites have been attacked, and officials do not anticipate a drop-off in workers leading up to the Iraq elections.
“Intimidation is a widespread problem: Iraqi supervisors have been threatened, workers have been threatened, and in some cases family members have been killed,” Hess said.
“The encouraging note there is that even though this is happening, the employers and employees are still willing to come to work, and they still value what reconstruction is doing for them and their country.”