|Iraqi reconstruction : $6 billion in contract awards through June|
|Official denies slow progress
Projects to be started are potable water, building of schools, waste disposal schemes, sewerage, healthcare and transportation
The United States signed commercial contracts worth more than $6 billion through June out of the $18.4 billion package appropriated last year to rebuild war-ravaged Iraq, a senior US official said Tuesday.
"Since January until June 30 these contracts have been obligated (signed) with hundreds of contractors to rebuild Iraq out of the 18.4 billion allocated for reconstructing Iraq," said Amy Burns, spokeswoman of the Project and Contracting Office, formerly known as the Program Management Office.
The PCO is assigned the task of rebuilding Iraq and has identified 2,300 projects.
"These contracts comprise the larger infrastructural based projects and also specific community based projects in key locations to quickly and visibly improve the daily lives of the Iraqi people," Burns told reporters.
Brushing aside criticism of slow progress, Burns said the rebuilding work was going at a steady pace.
"Rome was not build in one day, nor will Iraq be," Burns said.
"But we have found solutions by combining the small neighbourhood projects with large infrastructure ones for the quick rebuilding of Iraq." She said the complete reconstruction of Iraq would take up to three years.
"It is a long process, but the curve of our work pace is rapidly turning up." Burns also said that a lot of these contracts and sub-contracts were being awarded to Iraqi people.
"In various cities such as Baghdad, Fallujah, Mosul, Najaf, Karbala, Baqouba, Tikrit, we have awarded many contracts to Iraqis," she said. "These contracts are potable water projects, building of schools, waste disposal schemes, sewerage, health care and transportation." She did not specify how much money was actually disbursed for executing all these projects.
Earlier last week a White House report said that only 2 percent of the $18.4 billion appropriated for the reconstruction was spent so far. These funds are supposed to be used to train the Iraqi armed forces and police, and to help rebuild infrastructure, from the power grid to the oil sector to water and sanitation, transport and telecommunications, roads, health care and education.
"The reconstruction work is difficult considering the security issues, but it is going at a steady pace," Burns added.
The World Bank last month estimated that the entire rebuilding of Iraq would need nearly $37.5 billion over the next few years.
Joseph Saba, the bank's point man on Iraq, said the figure was based on recent studies carried out by the bank, adding work has to be under way despite the ongoing incidents of violence.
He predicted that actual work would begin over the next "six to eight months" and be carried out over several phases, with the bulk of the money being used in the initial phase.
He did not put any date for completion of the work.
"We cannot set a clear timetable for the entire reconstruction plan," he said. "Nobody can say definitively." The bank had identified four main priorities or areas it wanted to focus on in the near future, including education, infrastructure and social projects.
"Our focus shall be on basic education; building modern schools and supplying them with the necessary equipment, books and computers," Saba said.
Infrastructure projects were necessary but very difficult to execute due to the scale of the destruction as a result of the war and the ongoing violence.
"The ramping up of infrastructure projects will take time. Let us understand that it is necessary not only to build buildings and infrastructure but lot of things that had been destroyed Saddam Hussein's era," added Burns.
Beirut,07 12 2004
The Daily Star