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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.

(Page 4 of 5)

In Anbar, projects include a $270,000 effort to tutor 56 public health workers in a country from which an estimated 8,000 doctors had fled between 2003 and 2008. Farmers share the cost of US-supplied "hoop houses" that use drip irrigation to make local produce. Twenty women taught how to care for dairy cows have trained a further 500 women.

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"I talk with people every day, sheikhs and others," says an Iraqi translator who works for the Anbar PRT. "[Those we work with] thank us for a lot of things, and say 'without the US we are lost'.... But the people you meet on the street – they don't like us."

A top priority for PRTs in Anbar has been coping with the dropping water levels of the Euphrates River, now down to one-third of its prewar flow rate because of upstream damming in Turkey and Syria. The PRT has financed pipe extensions to deeper water, and circulated seed varieties that do better in saltier soil. Still, huge problems remain, such as the lack of electricity to run new pumping stations.

Other American efforts bring more immediate results. This summer, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) funded a two-month camp for 600 youths in Fallujah and, along with the Ministry of Education, accelerated courses for 1,900 schoolgirls. Families had pulled many of the girls out of classrooms to do chores. "There seems a much more willing acceptance of our programs," says a USAID official on the PRT.

"A lot of people are well aware of what we are doing," says another PRT member, one of several American advisers of the Anbar team in Ramadi (70 miles west of Baghdad). "The real problem is getting that message across to a broader audience."

But prejudices remain ingrained from years of conflict. Literacy classes for adult women – part of a national campaign – have proved popular, with 1,400 in the latest class in Fallujah.

"I can read and write now, so I can find a job," said Karima Ahmed Thahi, a 40-something widow with six children in Fallujah, who said the city had "changed for the better" with reconstruction.

"I am determined to participate, and also next year, because they promised to develop our capabilities more and more."

When asked if she knew that her course was financed by USAID, however, she grew angry and inaccurately mixed up money from USAID – dispensed under the auspices of the State Department – with cash from the US military.

"If this [US funding] turns out to be true, then they laughed at us and this is a fraud," said the widow. "They killed our sons and destroyed our city, and now fool us with these things."

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Ghazi Abdulaziz may have the most thankless job in Iraq. He is the director of the Doura power station, a sprawling four-smokestack facility that provides a quarter of the capital's electricity, and few issues resonate in Iraq like the lack of power.

Work at the plant has always been dangerous. In 2003, insurgents were already launching daily attacks against Iraqi electrical engineers and facilities. Seven years later, the killing hasn't stopped: In late July, a top ministry official was targeted by a bomb planted beneath his car.