Despite Setbacks, Iraq Reconstruction Moves Ahead

Published July 24, 2003

| FoxNews.com

For some, Tuesday's confirmation that Saddam Hussein's sons were killed in a firefight with U.S. troops in Mosul was the first good news to come out of Iraq in weeks.

But others maintain that despite the almost daily reports of attacks on U.S. forces, the good being done in Iraq outweighed the bad -- even before the reports of the demise of Qusay (search) and Uday (search).

"We have made progress, steady progress, in restoring hope in a nation beaten down by decades of tyranny," President Bush said Wednesday.

A new Iraq governing council (search) made its first debut at the United Nations this week. City councils are being created, as is an initial economic agenda for the country. A trading bank is being set up to guarantee payment for imported goods and services, especially food and materials needed in reconstruction.

"It is going to take time and a great deal of outside assistance to transform and bring steady growth to the economy of Iraq," Paul Bremer (search), the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq, said Wednesday at the National Press Club.

"The legacy of Saddam hangs like a black cloud over every aspect of the lives of the Iraqi people and that black cloud extends also over the economic future."

Within the next two months, the United States will form a new Iraqi army battalion, restore power to pre-war levels, distribute new schoolbooks void of Baathist ideology, refurbish about 1,000 schools, re-establish the Iraqi border patrol, and try get the economy up and running smoothly.

Coalition forces have cleared land mines from the vital southern port of Um Qasr (search) and opened it for business.

Oil fields are up and running. Bank robberies aren't plaguing the country. Hospitals now have much-needed medicine, and more than half of the Iraqi schools are open again. Water is running in many parts of the country and more than half of Baghdad has electricity.

"Right now, we're in the process of rebuilding the country," Sgt. J.J. Johnson, of the Coalition Press Information Center (search) in Baghdad, said recently. "A lot of these problems were not problems we caused or the Iraqis caused themselves but they're issues we have to deal with.

"We've got 20 years of neglect to make up for" that occurred during Saddam's regime. "A lot of that we can't do overnight."

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez of U.S. Central Command (search) said Wednesday from Baghdad that 11,000 Iraqis are interested in being part of the Iraqi army and will start training within 10 days under civilian control. Courts are functioning and Iraqis are beginning to set conditions to try felony cases "in the near term."

The coalition has distributed more than $26 million for humanitarian assistance projects -- 31 of which have already been completed.

"Am I optimistic about the future of Iraq? You are absolutely right," Sanchez said. "But the war continues."

There's no question that the almost daily attacks on coalition forces may slow some of these efforts.

"What I hear on the street is pretty discouraging. There is a big security problem and that does interfere with humanitarian operations," said John Steinbrner, director of the Center for International Security Studies (search) at the University of Maryland. "Street talk here says things are going worse rather than better."

Others have a more optimistic view.

"It's not perfect, there are problems and there will continue to be problems …" but ousting Saddam "was the right thing to do," said Fox News military analyst Col. David Hunt, adding that, "I think the political story is overcoming the humanitarian success."

James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center (search) at RAND, said the daily attacks get all the press because without security, other initiatives involving humanitarian and reconstruction efforts will "wash away like the sand when the surf comes in."

"I think that there's sort of a hierarchy of priorities in a post-conflict situation," Dobbins said. "The emphasis on security is an appropriate one. Unless you succeed there, your investments in the other areas will ultimately not pay any return."

Air conditioning units and light fixtures are being installed in hospitals and schools. Iraqis are turning in their guns. Waste and sewage collection systems are being established. Food is being distributed en masse. Various countries and organizations are donating food. Coalition troops are rebuilding soccer fields and women's colleges, and working with Iraq police to learn how to safely patrol and install order.

"We know that Iraqis are watching what we're doing and they appreciate what we're doing," Emad Dhia (search), Iraq's reconstruction director, told Fox News' Bret Baier. "Iraqis now are in better living standards than they were before.

"Iraqis know who is on their side and who is against them. I'm confident the free Iraqis and the coalition authority will prevail over Saddam's thugs and terrorists."

Johnson of the press center agreed, saying many Iraqis are more than willing to lend a hand than not.

"The majority of the Iraqi people over here are very cordial, very open to what's going on, more than willing to take a part in the betterment of their country," he said.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Wednesday that morale of U.S. troops in Iraq remains high and Iraqis have expressed "enormous gratitude" for coalition efforts to topple Saddam's regime.

Hunt suggested that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Bush themselves stand up and let the American public and the world know of the good going on in Iraq.

"They've got to get on it and use the bully pulpit and say 'it's better,'" Hunt said.

Coalition forces say despite all the downfalls, they are seeing the fruits of their labor and are in it for the long haul.

"It might not be that way from what you see on the news every day … [but] you actually see that acts you're doing on the ground make a place better, people better," Johnson said.

"There's no way you couldn't be in a positive mindset. I'm a soldier, so definitely, you're on a mission here and you see it getting better, you see it coming to fruition."

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