US in Iraq: What's been left behind
After seven years of war, Iraqis are freer but feel embittered by the loss of life and halting progress in turning on the lights.
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When it was over, Fallujah was sealed off and a biometric security system put in place for all returning residents. Compensation was paid for damage, but Fallujans were shocked at what they saw.Skip to next paragraph
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Since then, the Iraqi government has paid for two new bridges; a new 200-bed, $46 million hospital; and a host of other projects like roadworks. But the US military has also channeled much money into the area. Among the 4,600 projects USACE has implemented across Iraq, 109 projects worth $190 million lie in Fallujah alone.
The Army's project map for the city shows that 99 are complete, ranging from a $104 million sewer system and electricity transformers to new health centers, police posts, and the Al-Shuhada school – the object of headmaster Bassim's envy. Brick red, it stands out among the dun-colored houses and rubble. Painted on the wall inside are the words: "You work hard, you will achieve your dream."
During a visit, Christensen, the USACE colonel, asked the guard if he was happy with the building. "I was thanking God, because the kids of all the families will get an education," replied Ali Ahmed.
But that reaction is hardly uniform for US-funded projects, which rarely advertise their American connection. Abdul Hamid al-Jeraisi, a law graduate, had no idea the road in front of his sweet shop was paved with American cash. "Do you mean this street?" asked Mr. Jeraisi, surprised but unimpressed. "No, 100 percent no, this will not change the way I look at the American military," which, he says, "gave out their contracts to thieves who have no conscience" and who made "enormous profits."
Indeed, public association with the US remains "taboo," says one Fallujah resident, after watching a report on Al Anbar Television about two key lines of the sewer system in Fallujah.
Citizens on the street are quoted praising the engineers, workers, the city council, and the contractor. But during the nearly seven-minute program, not one word is said about the US underwriting the entire project.
Still, some Iraqis say that no amount of US money can compensate for human losses. "The people of the city will not accept that the Americans trade civilian lives for services," says Hassan al-Mihamdi, a department head at a teachers' institute. "The wounds of the country cannot be healed before half a century."
Never mind that the city council and local sheikhs in Fallujah – as in cities across Iraq – have worked closely with US military units, funneling money for reconstruction to Iraqi contractors. "These tribal sheikhs will not defend the US [to their tribe]," says the unnamed Fallujah resident. "When someone says, 'They killed my wife in that bombing,' what will he tell them, that the Americans put $10 million into the city?"
Facing such Iraqi perceptions, some US military officers take the long view. "The [Fallujah] offensive was only six years ago, so it's still fresh in their minds," says USACE Maj. James Roche. "It takes time."
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Like the military, the U.S. State Department has also learned to mask a "Made in the USA" label. The department's provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) are working closely with local government and ministries to fulfill needs from training midwives to boosting crop yields for farmers.