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Quick school fixes won few Iraqi hearts

(Page 2 of 2)

Whatever the extent of the problems with the school renovation program, they illustrate one of the fundamental philosophical dilemmas to confront US administrators here. Spending money fast tends to breed waste. Going slow is safer, but progress is less apparent.

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"There was a great plan for the war but they failed to plan for the peace,'' says Sean O'Sullivan, who runs Jumpstart, a nongovernmental organization that employs about 3,000 Iraqis to demolish war-damaged government buildings and build public housing. He says the US should have focused on short-term projects to get lots of Iraqis back to work and make identifiable progress.

Some senior CPA officials agree that money wasn't lined up fast enough to show the value of liberation. "Would there have been less violence if we had been able to get money spent and made progress more quickly? Probably,'' says a Baghdad-based Army civil affairs officer. "There was a window of opportunity to win Iraqis over that we didn't exploit."

The Bush administration allotted less than $1 billion to reconstruction before the invasion, hoping Iraqi oil revenue and functioning ministries would address the country's needs. "The expectation was that functioning institutions would step into the breach,'' says a CPA official. "They should have, but they didn't."

In September, with violence spreading, Congress approved the $18.6 billion aid package for Iraq, to be supervised by the CPA. But that money has only trickled out. By the middle of June, roughly $400 million had been spent. CPA officials note that delays were unavoidable given the insecurity and extensive government oversight. "This program is one of the most audited in government history," says John Procter, a spokesman for the CPA's Project Management Office. "With the amount of scrutiny and the controls ... we've done an amazing job getting this turned around."

He adds that 136 projects are currently under way, employing about 20,000 Iraqis, and that a huge backlog of contracts have been cleared in recent months. About $5.3 billion of infrastructure spending has now started to flow to contractors, and Mr. Procter predicts that by October most projects will be at full bore, employing about 50,000 Iraqis. "In the course of the next few weeks, you're going to see a rapid increase in employment and ground breaking on new projects."

Electricity remains a sore spot with Iraqis in Baghdad. Though CPA officials say average Iraqi electricity production is now higher than it was before the war, the residents of Baghdad - home to a third of Iraq's 27 million people - are getting about 12 hours of electricity a day, down from 18-20 hours. The CPA decided to redistribute power to towns less favored by Hussein's regime, which had little or no power before the war. Most residents of Baghdad don't know this, and are simply angry. "America was right to replace Saddam,'' says Isam Ali al-Beldawi, a Baghdad doctor. "But we're in the dark half the time."

There are only two other cities in Iraq that have less power today than before the war: Hussein's hometown of Tikrit and Fallujah, both favored by the former strongman and now hotbeds of insurgency.

"We don't measure success by how much we are loved when Ambassador Bremer departs on June 30,'' CPA spokesman Dan Senor said. "Success is measured by Iraqi support for democracy in this country."