Long Road Ahead to Iraq Reconstruction, Say Team Leaders

Americans and Iraqis, working together to try to make Baghdad a livable city under gunfire, have made some headway in building sewer systems and schools. But the American heads of the 80-person provisional reconstruction team that provides advice acknowledged Wednesday that "it will take a very long time" to get the job done.

There are Baghdad neighborhoods, Sadr City for instance, that are simply too risky to enter, although local leaders will meet with the team outside its confines, and Iraqis generally are just beginning to get the hang of putting a city together, reporters were told on a video hookup from Baghdad.

On the other hand, Joseph P. Gregoire, the team leader, said, "We have met with large numbers of people with good will who are trying to meet the needs of the Iraqi people."

Also, Gregoire said on a positive note, projects tend to overcome sectarian differences. A sewer system built in a Shiite neighborhood that corrects backup problems where Sunnis live, for instance, is welcomed by both communities, he said.

The team was set up last March with a $100 million budget, of which $60 million has been spent to make arrangements for sewer systems, schools, electricity and other civil projects.

A typical accomplishment, said Lt. Col. Robert Ruch, the deputy team leader, is that 10 schools are scheduled to be opened in the city of 6 million people next month.

"It is not only about building schools but creating jobs," he said in the video news conference.

About 80 people are on the team's roster, half of them U.S. service personnel, 15 American civilians, six or seven bilingual advisers from the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand and the rest are Iraqis.

Areas of concentration include helping local Iraqi officials to learn how to govern, offering advice on economic development, helping to provide services and instructing in legal proceedings.

Overall, new U.S. reconstruction aid for Iraq has dwindled in this fiscal year to $750 million. President Bush proposed a week ago adding $1.2 billion to that. Last month, the Iraq Study Group proposed boosting U.S. reconstruction assistance to $5 billion a year.

Calling the team headed by Gregoire and Ruch a reconstruction project is a misnomer, they said. They said their job is to provide advice and match up local officials with people who can do the work.

Even on their level, however, the task is daunting. "It will take a very long time to get to the point where the Iraqis will be able to meet the needs of the population independent of donor action," Gregoire said.