By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
July 13, 2007 – It will take time and considerable resources to rebuild Iraq following more than 25 years of neglect under Saddam Hussein's rule, a U.S. military official told online journalists today. However, U.S. assistance is only part of a broader effort -- from both Iraqi and other donor nations -- that will have a lasting effect on the country's infrastructure, said Army Brig. Gen. Michael Walsh, Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division commander.
Numerous relief and developmental funds have resulted in more than 3,300 completed projects for electricity, oil and water systems throughout Iraq. As of May, the Corps of Engineers had completed more than 2,300 projects impacting healthcare, transportation, education, communication and security.
Walsh said when U.S. soldiers entered Iraq in 2003, they encountered Russian-made generators throughout the country that had neither been maintained nor upgraded during the 12-year quarantine Iraq implemented against Russia. The general described the repairs made to the equipment using Chinese and West German parts as being "innovative" but in desperate need of replacement.
"But once we go in and we renovate a lot of these generators and bring them up from the analog world into the digital world, they're not going to slip back into the analog world," he said.
The fact that Iraqis have enough water and health care is indicative that the rebuilding of infrastructure is having an influence in the war-torn country, the general said.
Walsh said that in the last four years, engineers have renovated or replaced 2,800 megawatts into the Baghdad loop. This has involved the strengthening and stabilization of the electrical transmission grid and completion of six overhead line projects affecting 425,000 households and 2.1 million Iraqi citizens.
"If we look at it from an electrical sector, the demand for electricity has gone up 30 percent after the first part of the war and ha gone up 10 percent every year since then," Walsh said. "So people are buying air conditioners, refrigerators, TV' -- you know, they're buying things that require electricity. That would indicate to me that the economy is doing okay."
Currently the U.S. contributes $22 billion to rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, this is only one-fifth of what the World Bank estimates is required to put the country's facilities, Walsh said.
The general said the U.S. is tracking to see if Iraq or donor nations are able to pick up the remainder of the requirement. "We're trying to make sure that they're able to invest in their own country," Walsh said.
The White House's Initial Benchmark Assessment Report, released yesterday, cited the ability of the Iraqi government to execute only 22 percent of its capital budget is due to fact that the government wasn't set up until mid-2006.
Walsh reminded the journalists that the country had no procurement system set up so budget implementation and expenditure were slowed.
"The problem that they had last year is they did not have a procurement system in place where they can get contracts readily at the central ministry," he said. "So it would be significant if they were able to get $10 billion worth of contracts out; to have not a lot of construction on the ground done, if they were just to get those contracts in place, that would be significantly different than what we saw last year."
"They're kinda stuck between transparency and getting the work done," Walsh said. "When you do something like that, it takes a lot of time to get it through all the pedantic processes to make sure that there's not corruption involved."