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Last Updated: Monday, 25 October, 2004, 14:23 GMT 15:23 UK
Some Iraqi reconstruction goes unsung
By Hugh Skyes
BBC News correspondent in Basra

An off-the-shelf power station has arrived in Baghdad, its massive components on flat-bed trucks which drove slowly along the desert highway from Jordan.

Flats in Basra
Reconstruction work is needed at these flats in Basra
The trucks each have a dozen sets of double wheels - and they lumbered along with their heavy loads like the sluggish transporters that inch the space shuttle towards its launch pad.

And it's almost space shuttle scale. The gas turbine which will drive the electricity generator weighs 220 metric tonnes.

The new plant will augment, and perhaps completely replace, a battered old Baghdad power station which hardly ever runs at more than 40% capacity. Many days it produces no power at all.

This new power station is being built by Bechtel and General Electric. With the high kidnap threat in Iraq, and because of the threat of sabotage, they are deeply anxious about security.

They asked me not to reveal the exact location of this plant. But it's so big, the whole of Baghdad must know it's there.

Some progress

And most Baghdadis will be very happy about it. In time for the high demand next summer for electricity to power ceiling fans and air-conditioners, this plant should be generating constant power 24 hours a day - for a quarter of a million homes.

It cost $150 million. A price well worth paying, according to one of Bechtel's Iraqi managers - anonymous for security reasons. He believes major 'quality of life' projects like this help to "shut the mouths of the terrorists and Saddam loyalists".

This new power station is one of the unsung successes of the occupation.

A few kilometres away, there's another.

In the Baghdad suburb of Zafaraniya, engineers with the US First Cavalry division have managed and financed a fundamental project. A network of new sewage pipes is nearly complete - mains drainage for the first time for around twenty thousand people who previously had only septic tanks.

Many can't afford to have the septic tanks emptied regularly, so they fill and overflow into the street.

This project is very popular, and it provides jobs for dozens of young men who were previously unemployed.

Local people told me that support for the Moqtada Sadr militia dropped off when these jobs became available.

Southern efforts

In Jumhuriya, a very poor district of the southern city Basra, there are pools of sewage lying in the street around the stalls of the main local market. The flies are so bad it's hard to open your mouth to speak.

If security improved, progress wouldn't have to be so slow... Many of the people and businesses with the expertise - Iraqi and foreign - are unwilling to get involved in reconstruction so long as contractors are being car bombed, kidnapped and decapitated
But there's hope here too. The G5 military/civil liaison section of the British army has selected contractors to install pumps to take the foul water away.

G5 have also provided new enclosures for market stalls away from the filthy street, and they're helping build a new covered fish market.

And in Basra - unlike Baghdad - the military do announce their successes, the army publishes a free weekly newspaper called 'The Minaret', which details progress with projects like the sewage clearance in Jumhuriya.

The paper also explains why it all takes so long - and they believe this helps defuse the impatient anger that fuels some of the resistance to the occupation.

And if security improved, progress wouldn't have to be so slow. The money is available. But - as a recent White House report revealed - less than three percent of the $18bn dollar reconstruction budget has been spent.

A core reason for this is that many of the people and businesses with the expertise - Iraqi and foreign - are unwilling to get involved in reconstruction so long as contractors are being car bombed, kidnapped and decapitated.




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