US Seeks to Hand Reconstruction over to Iraqis ; US Trumpets Economic and Social Progress in Iraq: More Than 2,000 Projects Have Been Completed

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First the White House outlined a strategy of building up Iraq's security forces as the ticket home for US troops. Now the US is promoting a parallel vision that calls for progressively turning over control of US-funded development projects, worth about $21 billion, to Iraqis.

"As Iraqis develop their security capabilities, we will reduce our military presence," said Daniel Speckhard, director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office at a media briefing here Thursday. "We will see that same transition in our reconstruction program ... from one heavily dominated by the United States to one increasingly under Iraqi control."

Coming the day after President Bush's speech in New York on Iraq reconstruction, the briefing underscores the effort by the administration to highlight the "unheralded" economic and social progress. This appears to be a double-headed objective: trumpet the progress, but also the transition from American to Iraqi control.

Examples abound: The US Army Corps of Engineers is turning increasingly to Iraqi engineers and contractors to design and complete sewer and water projects. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is halfway through training 100,000 Iraqi teachers in new methods, while also spearheading development of private social organizations.

But not all elements of Iraq's reconstruction program fit into that picture.

Billions of dollars have been lost to corruption or wasted, according to US government reports. Many Iraqi contractors and workers face death threats and other difficulties for associating with US projects. The number of Iraqi contractors killed now totals several hundred. At the same time, at least one-fifth of US reconstruction funds have been spent on security for projects and workers.

In addition, the initial American message of delivering billions of dollars to build a modern country has fed high expectations and led to Iraqi frustration.

To counter that, US officials offer statistics with all arrows pointing up for services and improvements delivered. More than 2,000 infrastructure projects have been completed, with more than 1,000 under way, according to Brig. Gen Bill McCoy, the US military's reconstruction head in Baghdad. While 5 million Iraqis have potable water before the war, 6 million do today. More than 3 million short- term jobs have been created by US funds, in a country with half of its 25 million people 15 years old or younger. …