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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 October, 2003, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Starting from scratch in Iraq

By Jill McGivering
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

Traffic crawls down one of central Baghdad's busiest streets
Iraq will need support to improve its infrastructural chaos

Hopes for rebuilding Iraq are pinned largely on the generosity of donors at the Madrid conference but, after war and many years of sanctions, it is a country needing to start almost from scratch.

The Karada telecommunications exchange looks like a giant building site surrounded by partially destroyed buildings.

Formerly serving 30,000 customers in central Baghdad, it was bombed by the US-led coalition in March.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, the buildings were looted and burned.

First bricks

Mehdi Hassan Nasrallah, who is heading the rebuilding project, says the heart of the Iraqi capital depends on the Karada exchange.

"It serves many homes, government offices, shops and businesses," he says.

Now we're trying to lay the first bricks to rebuild it."

Work has been going on for two months and Mr Nasrallah - somewhat optimistically it seems - says the exchange should be working again in another two months.

"It was destroyed 100%," he says.

"But in Iraq we have experience because in the last war in 1991 we managed to rebuild many buildings and offices.

"With the help of the international community and countries from all over the world, we can rebuild in a short time.

"The important thing is that we've got rid of the old regime," he adds.

American made

A few kilometres to the south is one of Baghdad's four main power stations.

Iraqi schoolteacher hands over
This school in Iraq is lucky to have books - around 80% need renovations
The equipment looks ancient, much of it installed in the 1960s, some in the 1980s.

The engineers have struggled to refurbish the plant since then but there have been constant breakdowns.

"We have a technical problem, because we have a shortage of spare parts," says Bashir Khalaf Omar, the plant's director.

"This station was completely American-made, so during the [1990-2003] embargo, the American companies could not supply material to this station."

The power station was not bombed during the recent hostilities and it ran through almost the whole war but, Mr Omar says, it finally had to be shut down on 5 April, four days before the fall of the regime.

In May, its managers gave the US company Bechtel a list of emergency spare parts needed by the plant - but since the technology used is obsolete outside Iraq, Bechtel have not been able to supply the parts.

Under Saddam Hussein, the plant was able to generate 200 megawatts.

Mr Omar says it is nearly back to that capacity - but will be unable to increase output without help from outside.

Broken schools

Another area where Iraq is in desperate need of renovation is in the school system.

At least 700 schools need to be completely rebuilt, from about 2,700 schools which were damaged and looted in the last six months
Education minister Alaa Abdessaheb al-Alwan
Take Baghdad's Khalisa Girls School, built in the 1930s and used by the Iraqi army during the conflict as a weapons store.

Now the children have desks and books, but not much else.

The walls are pockmarked and the plaster is falling off; there are electric wires hanging where there should be light bulbs.

In the corner is an ancient filing cabinet tied together with a piece of string.

The school playground is just rough paving stones, most of them broken.

And the school's toilet block is in a disgusting state, with broken doors and cracked china and a very bad smell hanging over it because the school has no water.

Help needed

Education Minister Alaa Abdessaheb al-Alwan says this is a problem repeated throughout the country.

"We have more than 16,000 schools - about 80% of these need renovation," he says.

"At least 700 schools need to be completely rebuilt, from about 2,700 schools which were damaged and looted in the last six months."

Mr Alwan says Iraq has high hopes for the future, but the cost will be just as high.

Most of the education budget for next year will be spent on salaries, with only very little going towards investment.

So, if Iraq wants to rebuild its schools - like the rest of its infrastructure - it will need a great deal of support from the countries gathering in Madrid.


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