By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
June 29, 2007 – All of the $11 billion appropriated for the Iraqi Relief and Reconstruction Fund has been obligated, the work is 83 percent complete, and Iraqis are doing more and more of the work, a senior military official said yesterday. But work will need to continue in the region for at least another year and a half to finish the projects started, said Army Brig. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division.
As of June 10, 2,924 of a planned 3,393 Iraqi Relief and Reconstruction Fund projects are finished, according to corps reports. Of 7,494 planned projects under Commander's Emergency Response Program funding, 6,278 projects are finished.
Construction in the region has shifted from largely Western-based contracts to more contracts awarded to Iraqi contractors, Walsh said. About 60 percent of the contractors are now Iraq-based, and that number is expected to grow, he said.
Still, with all the successes in the region, Walsh said, the rebuilding efforts are not moving as fast as he would like.
"It's very difficult to get the skilled labor, the right materials, the right security, the right politics, all in one place so that you can get construction work done," he said. "Sometimes it's a year-and-a-half process.
"It's not going as fast as I would like, but then I am an impatient person, as most Americans are," Walsh said. "I think it's going as fast as it can."
Primary health care clinics take about a year to finish, he said. The corps is building 150 in the region. The corps has renovated 16 hospitals funded by the Iraqi Relief and Reconstruction Fund. Nine more are on tap to be finished. In Basrah, a 94-bed children's hospital should be finished this time next year.
Water and sewer plants take up to three years to finish, Walsh said. The corps just finished one in Irbil in northern Iraq, and another in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq. The two projects total about $450 million. To date, the corps' projects have delivered water to an additional 2.6 million people there. Officials plan to provide water to twice that many people before all projects are finished.
Corps officials are trying to bring Baghdad up to 12 hours of power daily. The city now has about eight hours daily. Most of the rest of country is up past 12 hours daily. Before the war, the outlying provinces may have had only two hours daily.
Part of a "good" problem in supplying electricity is the recovering economy in Iraq, Walsh said. As the economy grows, local citizens are buying more televisions, refrigerators and other appliances, which, in turn, drives up the need for power.
"So their demand for electricity is continuing to go up as we are trying to reach that demand. I think that's a good-news story -- that we are trying to catch up with what the Iraqis are able to purchase," Walsh said.
The Iraqi people never had 24 hours of power, Walsh said. To bring them up to 12 hours is a "significant step forward."
The biggest problem with rebuilding the infrastructure of Iraq, Walsh said, is that it has been underfunded and not maintained for the past 25 years.
"You're not going to turn that around in two or three years. These are large construction projects," Walsh said. "We are working with the Iraqi government ... so that they switch from failure maintenance to a preventive maintenance mentality."
An example of underfunded infrastructure is the nation's poorly maintained pipelines and oil refineries. Because of a lack of efficiency, it became cheaper to buy oil from other countries and have it trucked in than to rely on Iraq's own oil resources, Walsh said.
Other obstacles in the rebuilding effort are insurgent and criminal attacks on the sites, Walsh said.
Electric cables are taken down from towers and melted to sell. Water lines and pipelines are sometimes targeted by those with grudges against specific villages.
"It is difficult to protect a nation's entire infrastructure, whether it is in Iraq or the United States," Walsh said. Typically, Iraqi contractors hire their own security during the construction as part of the contract, Walsh said.