May 21, 2004 – While the Bush administration continues to claim it is making "great progress" rebuilding Iraq and giving aid to the Iraqi people, very few of the promised reconstruction projects have actually been started, the amount of aid disbursed so far is a tiny fraction of the amount allocated by Congress, and the number of Iraqis hired for rebuilding projects remains low, according to news reports and the governmentâ€™s own documents.
Last November, Congress approved $87 billion in spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, but more than $60 billion of that was earmarked for military operations, including the construction of permanent US bases, leaving only $18.4 billion for the rebuilding of Iraqâ€™s civilian infrastructure. Thus far, the Coalition Provisional Authorityâ€™s Iraq Program Management Office (PMO) has distributed only about $1.9 billion in reconstruction money, according to the PMOâ€™s web site, with much of that amount going to American and European contractors. And of the $1.9 billion, some $300 million is being diverted to security and administrative costs, according to a report by ABC News.
The PMO also reported this week that only 73 construction projects were underway in Iraq, which is less than four percent of the 2,000 rebuilding projects the coalition promised would be up and running by now. The total number of Iraqis working on those projects stood at only 25,654 this week, less than 1 percent of the countryâ€™s total workforce of 7 million, but more than the 3,517 Iraqis employed two weeks earlier, according to the Associated Press. Last month, Iraqis worked on only four reconstruction projects, all of them involving the rehabilitation of military bases for the new Iraqi army, the AP reports.
Many of the rebuilding efforts are intended to repair and restore communications, water treatment and energy services, some of which US-led coalition forces damaged during last yearâ€™s invasion. Many other construction projects are slated to mend or replace infrastructure destroyed by attacking forces during the 1991 Gulf War, or through wear and tear sustained since. As a result of harsh economic sanctions that followed the first war, Iraqis were extremely limited in their capacity to renovate and maintain public works facilities.
Private contractors and US officials say bureaucratic delays and poor security in Iraq are to blame for the slow progress, according to the AP. Resistance fighters have reportedly killed more than two-dozen foreign contractors and kidnapped more than 70 others. US military commanders say one reason for the attacks is the lack of jobs being provided to Iraqis, the AP reports. Unemployment has hovered around 60 to 70% for most of the occupation, dropping to 45% only recently, according to data from the Brookings Institute published by The New York Times.
The head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, criticized the US last week for not involving the Leagueâ€™s 22 members in reconstruction efforts, the AP reports. "The Arab family asks to help in [Iraq's] reconstruction," Moussa said, "Iraq is one of us and will remain as such.'' He suggested that the security situation would improve if more Iraqis and Arabs were involved in making decisions about the countryâ€™s future.
Although US contractors may be slow to consult other Arab nations or hire Iraqis, they have not hesitated to hire Americans and workers from other countries. Of the 24,000 people working for Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton, most are Americans while only 6,000 are Iraqis, according to reports by the Asia Times and the AP. Most of KBRâ€™s work involves military construction, and many of its American employees in Iraq are veterans of the companyâ€™s projects to build military bases in the Balkans following the US-led attack on the former Yugoslavia in 1999.
Salaries for KBRâ€™s American workers, who are covered by health plans and life insurance policies, are equivalent to those paid for similar jobs in the US, according to the Asia Times. But salaries and working conditions for some of KBRâ€™s non-American workers have been described as slave-like, according to reports from Reuters and the Khaleej Times, an English-language newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. Workers from India say they were verbally abused and threatened by employers and US soldiers while working 18-hour days for little pay in military kitchens operated by a KBR subcontractor. An investigation by US officials is reportedly underway.