Petrodollars fail to help ordinary Iraqis
Residents complain that the Iraqi government is focusing on cosmetic changes while the US Army funds reconstruction initiatives.
On the neatly swept median of Baghdad's Airport Road, flowers line the perimeter of a lush lawn. Shiny guardrails flank the highway and workers in blue overalls pick up trash on shoulders where insurgents once placed roadside bombs. These are features of a $60-million project overseen by Baghdad city authorities to revitalize the capital's main artery, which, until the recent decline in violence, was one of the most dangerous roads in Iraq.Skip to next paragraph
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Iraqi officials and American military officers praise the project as a symbol of reconstruction and revival. But Hassan Bejawi, who sells ice cream and soda not far from the highway, says it is a symbol of waste and mismanagement by a government that has done little to improve citizens' lives. "The government has no role in the community," says Mr. Bejawi. "They only care about their own interests."
Flush with oil revenue, Iraq has budgeted $50 billion so far – as much as the United States – to rebuild the country. This month, the US Government Accountability Office predicted that the Iraqi government could end the year with a $79-billion budget surplus.
But Iraq has been slow to spend its money. By March, the latest month for which data is available, it had spent only 2.7 percent of its budget, according to a quarterly report released last month by the US special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction. By contrast, the United States has spent nearly all of the money it has appropriated.
The slow pace of reconstruction frustrates Iraqis, who are struggling with staggering unemployment, power outages, water shortages, and streets choked by sewage and trash. Many are particularly exasperated by such projects as the beautification of the road to Baghdad International Airport.
"We need real reconstruction and building, not only show business and changing the surfaces," says Safa Hussein, a Baghdad physician.
Bejawi seconds this sentiment. To get to his shop, he has to climb over piles of rotting trash and hop over a clogged gutter. Since the dilapidated city power grid provides electricity for only one hour, twice a day, Bejawi's business is not doing well: it is hard to keep ice cream cold in 120-degree heat.
"The problem of electricity and garbage has exhausted us," says Bejawi. "For five years we have been living like this."