IRAQ: Head of Reconstruction Says Unexpected Security Costs Eating Into Budget

As much as 16 percent of the $21 billion reconstruction budget would be spent on providing security for its projects and workers -- roughly double the original estimate.
Publisher Name: 
The Washington Post

BAGHDAD -- The head of the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq said Saturday that as much as 16 percent of the $21 billion reconstruction budget would be spent on providing security for its projects and workers -- roughly double the original estimate.

William Taylor, director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, told reporters that insurgent attacks had caused substantial delays and required contractors to hire more guards.

His office also disclosed that 295 civilian contractors had been killed in Iraq as of April 30, according to data provided by the Labor Department based on requests for death benefits.

"Our mission, our goal, our reason for being here is to improve the lives of Iraqis," Taylor said. "We have to do that even though it's going to cost a little more in terms of security."

From its inception soon after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, reconstruction teams struggled to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, which suffered years of neglect by the former government and further damage during the war and subsequent insurgent attacks.

The United States has allocated more than $6 billion for improving Iraq's electrical grid and water supply. But a recent survey of living conditions conducted by the United Nations and the Iraqi government found that 85 percent of households in the country lacked stable electricity and that just 54 percent had access to clean water.

"Two years on, I would have liked to have been further" along, Taylor acknowledged. "But I would have liked to have had fewer attacks on the people doing the reconstruction."

The turbulent security climate has discouraged private sector investment. Financial institutions have been dissuaded from establishing offices here and oil companies have been wary of building new refineries, he said.

"It's a risky place to do business -- not just a financial risk, but a risk to your person. That needs to change," Taylor said. "In the end, it's going to be the private sector that rebuilds this place, not governments."

As an example of how attacks can complicate reconstruction projects, Taylor described a visit two days ago to an electrical facility in Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. The project had stagnated because its foreman had recently been kidnapped.

Reconstruction teams, he said, are spending "the most time and effort" in restive Anbar province, in western Iraq. In Fallujah, more than $200 million has been spent since U.S. forces launched a major offensive last November.

Since last August, Taylor said, the United States has completed 14 new fire stations, 16 oil projects and 29 new border facilities and helped train more than 140,000 new police soldiers. A 400-ton generator was successfully transported overland from Jordan to the northern city of Kirkuk.

But such accomplishments receive too little attention, he said, in part because of the security situation. Last September, reporters were invited to a party celebrating the opening of a sewage treatment plant, but a bombing nearby killed at least 41 people, including 34 children.

"It's hard getting good news out," Taylor said.

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