By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 3, 2007 - United States-backed programs designed to jump-start Iraq's battered infrastructure are making meaningful progress, a senior U.S. Army engineer general said in Baghdad today. The United States has contributed more than $22 billion for projects to reconstruct Iraq's water, electricity and other infrastructure damaged by decades of neglect and war, Brig. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Gulf Region Division, told reporters at a Baghdad news conference.
"Every day we see successes in the U.S. government's reconstruction program here," Walsh said.
More than 4,100 projects from 4,700 planned projects were completed at the end of fiscal 2007, he said. "We still have another 582 projects, ongoing," Walsh said.
Many essential services provided by the U.S. in some areas of Iraq over the past year, such as access to clean water, sewage, paved roads, medical care and schools, didn't exist during the Saddam Hussein regime, the general said. In addition, 75 percent of Iraq now has twice the electrical power that it had before Operation Iraqi Freedom, Walsh reported.
Oil and electricity production and availability constitute the bedrock of Iraq's economic recovery, Walsh pointed out. Refineries need dependable electrical power to process fuel, he noted, and electrical generation requires high-quality petroleum-derived fuel to run plants.
More than 95 percent of Iraq's economy is dependent on petroleum exports, he added. The country's inefficient 1960s- to 1970s-era infrastructure was poorly maintained and requires intensive rehabilitation, he added.
"And, you can imagine if you were to drive a sports car for 30 years without changing its oil, its belts and its filters, how well it would run," Walsh said.
However, many petroleum-production goals in post-Saddam Iraq have now been met, Walsh said, noting that about $1.7 billion worth of oil-sector projects were completed in June. Iraqi industry also has reached its daily goals of producing 3,000 tons of liquefied petroleum gas, 3 million barrels of crude oil, and 800 million cubic feet of natural gas.
"We have set our goals and continue to stay on track to meet them," Walsh said.
The United States had earmarked $4 billion to refurbish Iraq's electrical-generation system, with the goal of achieving an average of 12 hours of power availability daily across the country. Officials have exceeded that goal, and Iraq now averages about 15 hours of electric power availability nationwide, he said.
Iraq produces more than 5,000 megawatts of power daily in pursuing an ever-growing national demand for electricity, now pegged at about 10,000 megawatts, Walsh said.
"We're meeting about 50 percent of that (electrical) requirement," Walsh said.
Electrical generation capacity continues to improve across Iraq, but a scarcity of fuels and unwillingness by some communities to share electricity are hampering that effort, he said.
Yet, Iraqi authorities continue to persevere and estimate that their country will achieve 24 hours of power nationwide around 2010-2013, Walsh said.
Great progress also has been achieved in providing health care facilities to the Iraqi people, Walsh reported, noting his Gulf Region Division has provided 64 new or refurbished primary health clinics to Iraqi authorities. Twenty-eight of those clinics are open to the public, he noted, with 12 located in Baghdad. "All of the open clinics are now seeing upwards of 350 patients a day, clearly filling a much-needed gap," Walsh said.
In Basra, construction continues on the first new hospital to be built in Iraq since the 1980s, Walsh reported. Basra Children's Hospital is slated to be completed in August 2008, he said.
Other reconstruction programs are geared toward the training and education of future health care, power plant, education, transportation and communication employees.
Intensive efforts also are under way to provide women's vocational training and programs to ensure Iraqi women have employment equal opportunity and the ability to bid on government-let contracts. In 2007, U.S. Army authorities in Iraq awarded about $75 million in contracts to women-owned businesses, he said.
U.S. government-endorsed projects and programs in Iraq are "yielding positive, tangible results in everyday reconstruction, and we continue to do so," Walsh said.