Rebuilding Iraq: Despite Disarray, Immense U.S. Effort Picks Up Speed

By Pisik, Betsy; Behn, Sharon | The World and I, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Rebuilding Iraq: Despite Disarray, Immense U.S. Effort Picks Up Speed


Pisik, Betsy, Behn, Sharon, The World and I


Betsy Pisik and Sharon Behn are writers for TheWashington Times.

Normally, the sounds of hammering would be an annoyance in this health clinic, but young Iraqi mothers with small children pay little heed to the construction din overhead. The Baghdad clinic's new second story will be devoted to modern diagnostic equipment such as sonograms, magnetic resonance imaging, and new-model X-ray machines.

It is an ambitious addition to the renovated ground floor of the Al- Zewyia Primary Health Care Center, a spacious and clean facility where general practitioners diagnose fevers, obstetricians monitor pregnancies, and dentists fill cavities.

"The American ... army has done this beautiful thing," says Dr. Sarra'a Abdul Jalil Habib, senior doctor in the Al-Zewyia clinic. "They are rehabilitating everything, the air conditioning, the furniture, even the instruments."

The $150,000 project was funded by the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division through its Commander's Emergency Reconstruction Program, a fund that allows Army units to spend relatively small amounts on quick-impact projects in neighborhoods. Capt. Larry Geddings says the clinic was recommended for rehabilitation by the neighborhood council and approved by the division commander.

But Habib acknowledges that the facility was a curious choice for American reconstruction funding. "This area is wealthy," she says. "The women here can pay for their health care and medications."

Al-Zewyia is a private clinic in the upscale neighborhood of Jaderiya, a tree-lined community of high-walled houses and private security guards. The clinic and the neighborhood were not looted and suffered no damage during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to topple dictator Saddam Hussein. Its four doctors and two pharmacists see 40 to 50 patients a day. The staff is supplemented by administrators, medical assistants, and security guards.

That contrasts sharply with the chaotic, understaffed emergency room at Yarmouk Hospital, a public facility nearby. As many as 150 patients a day pass through the emergency room, some with bullet wounds, others with shrapnel injuries from terrorist bombs.

Doctors at Yarmouk, which serves all of south Baghdad, are desperate for electricity, medicine, bandages, and other basic supplies. Patients lay perspiring in rooms with a dozen beds and scores of visiting relatives as daytime temperatures soar above 125 degrees. "It is criminal we cannot do more for these people," says a stunned intern as he races between beds in the wake of a recent car bombing. "I haven't enough bandages today."

Hospitals and countless small clinics scattered throughout Iraq face similar misery, as patients wait for treatment in dusty hallways or crouch in whatever shade they can find outside. A recent Health Ministry survey here found that only 4 percent of the government-run health care facilities received any rehabilitation or reconstruction funds. "Assessments indicate that as much as 65 percent of equipment in Iraq's hospitals does not function, or is in need of repair or replacement," one Health Ministry bulletin reads.

Haphazard efforts

The contrast between the two facilities, both in southern Baghdad, illustrates a problem that plagues U.S. nation-building efforts. The programs remain disorganized, haphazard, and even chaotic as millions of Iraqis, especially those in Baghdad, suffer through another blistering summer.

Two congressional appropriations, cash from oil sales, Iraqi assets frozen by the United States during Saddam's rule and discretionary commanders' funds all are mixed into the pot of Iraq-reconstruction funding. That leaves no single official in the U.S. government with a good handle on what is being done or how effectively the money is being spent.

A new audit by the inspector general for the former U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority says that civilian administrators failed to keep proper track of nearly $1 billion in Iraqi money spent on reconstruction projects, the Associated Press reported from Baghdad. …

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