February 16, 2006

Rice grilled over Iraq rebuilding

By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With water, sewer and electricity
services below prewar levels in Iraq, a leading Democrat told
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday that
patience was waning over the pace and cost of rebuilding

Congress has given more than $20 billion for projects aimed
at improving Iraq's dilapidated infrastructure and winning over
Iraqis with better utility services, and Rice told lawmakers
that conditions were better.

But in three key areas -- access to drinking water,
electricity and sewer service -- Iraqis are worse off than
before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, according to
statistics released last week by the U.S. special inspector
general for Iraq reconstruction.

"We have the inspector general saying things are getting
worse even though we have provided a lot of money," said Sen.
Kent Conrad. "Who are we to believe?" the North Dakota Democrat
asked Rice in a Senate Budget Committee hearing.

"I can tell you, patience is wearing thin," he said.

Rice, who had told the committee more Iraqis had access to
sewerage and water services than before, argued that what the
United States had improved was "capacity" and the United States
had made a difference.

"I think this may be an issue of whether we are talking
about delivery or capacity. We have increased the capacity for
clean water for several million Iraqis," she said.

What mattered to Iraqis, Conrad said, was not the potential
to get water and electricity but to actually get it.

Hampered by constant attacks from insurgents, U.S.-funded
reconstruction in Iraq has come under heavy criticism from
Congress, from Republicans and Democrats alike who say the Bush
administration has massaged statistics to inflate achievements.


Last week, the special inspector general for Iraq
rebuilding, Stuart Bowen, told Congress that only 32 percent of
Iraqis had access to potable water versus 50 percent before
March 2003. The share of Iraqis with access to sewer service
had dropped to 20 percent from 24 percent prewar.

Before the war, Iraq had the capacity to produce about
4,500 megawatts of power, while the capacity was now 3,995
megawatts, the inspector general said.

Iraqis have been most critical of unreliable power
supplies. The latest State Department weekly report on Iraq
rebuilding cites a nationwide blackout on February 6 because of
poor weather. Power was restored a day later.

Many analysts have been scathing in their comments of how
the rebuilding was done. At a speech in Washington last week,
RAND Corp.'s James Dobbins, an expert on Iraq, called the U.S.
efforts at nation-building "heroic amateurism."

The State Department has changed its tactics in the
reconstruction program and giant projects originally handed out
to huge U.S. corporations have been scaled back and the focus
shifted to giving more business to Iraqi firms.

Security costs have gobbled up much of the money intended
for rebuilding. Security estimates run from 20 to 50 percent of
a project's cost, depending on where work is being done.

The oil that U.S. officials said would originally help pay
for rebuilding has also not materialized, with weekly crude
production from January 30-February 5 recorded at 1.7 million
barrels a day against prewar 2.5 million barrels a day,
according to the State Department's latest report.

"I am very concerned that we are going to be asked for a
boatload of additional funding," said Conrad. "We have got to
find a way to share this burden."

Rice said there was about $2.9 billion left for U.S.-funded
rebuilding projects and the United States hoped other donors
would follow through on funding pledges.

"I agree we need to find a way to share the burden," said

The Bush administration on Thursday was expected to send
Congress its request $72 billion more to fight wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan. The request does not include reconstruction money.