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Iraq's basic services are worse now than before war began

James Glanz, The New York Times

WASHINGTON, February 9, 2006-- Virtually every measure of the performance of Iraq's oil, electricity, water and sewerage sectors has fallen below pre-invasion values, even though $16 billion of U.S. taxpayer money has already been disbursed in the Iraq reconstruction program, several government witnesses have told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Of seven different measures of infrastructure performance presented Wednesday at the committee hearing by the inspector general's office, only one was above pre-invasion values.

Those that had slumped below those values were electrical generation capacity, hours of power available in a day in Baghdad, oil and heating oil production and the numbers of Iraqis with drinkable water and sewage service.

In addition, two of the witnesses said they believed that an earlier estimate by the World Bank that $56 billion would be needed for rebuilding over the next several years was too low.

At the same time, as Iraq's oil exports are plummeting and the country remains saddled with tens of billions of dollars of debt, it is unclear where that money will come from, said one of the witnesses, Joseph Christoff, director of international affairs and trade at the Government Accountability Office.

And those may not be the most serious problems facing the physical infrastructure, said Stuart Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an independent office.

In one sense, focusing on the plummeting performance numbers "misses the point," Bowen said. The real question, he said, is whether the Iraqi security forces will ever be able to protect the infrastructure from insurgent attack.

"What's happened is that an incessant, an insidious insurgency has repeatedly attacked the key infrastructure targets, reducing outputs," Bowen said. He added that some of the performance numbers had fluctuated above prewar values in the past, only to fall again under the pressure of insurgent attacks and other factors.

The chairman of the foreign relations committee, Senator Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, began by billing the session as a way of deciphering how much of America's original ambitions in the rebuilding program were likely to be fulfilled with the amount of money that Iraq, the U.S. Congress and international donors were still prepared to spend.

This downsizing of expectations was striking given that $30 billion of U.S. taxpayer money has already been dedicated to the task, according to an analysis by Christoff of the GAO.

Bowen's office has pointed out that another $40 billion in Iraqi oil money and seized assets of Saddam Hussein's regime had also been made available for reconstruction at one time or another.


Last week, Robert J. Stein Jr., one of four former U.S. government officials in Iraq who have been arrested in a bribery and kickback scheme involving that money, pleaded guilty to federal charges.


:: Article nr. 20464 sent on 10-feb-2006 00:21 ECT

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