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Reconstruction work in Iraq disrupted by more violence

Contractors working on projects in Iraq will not be put at risk by the US Corps of Engineers as surging violence disrupts work on key construction projects

Escalating violence in Iraq this month has disrupted reconstruction work in parts of the country, but plans are still on track for a tenfold increase in the number of projects. Dozens of people have been killed during an 11-day uprising led by Moqtada Al Sadr in the southern city of Najaf, Baghdad’s suburbs and other areas, in the worst fighting in Iraq since a similar rebellion took place in April.

General Thomas Bostick, in charge of implementing projects paid for from US $18.4 billion of US money slated for Iraq, said clashes had caused only delays in the worst trouble spots.

“We’re not going to put contractors in between bullets,” he said. “When violence occurs in a place like Najaf, then the kind of construction that we would like to be doing, whether it’s schools or hospitals, is obviously going to slow down,” said Bostick, commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region Division.

US strategists see rebuilding Iraq’s wrecked power, water and sewage facilities as vital to boosting the legitimacy of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s government and undermining support for insurgents ahead of elections due in January.

Despite lawlessness gripping swathes of southern and central Iraq, where troops suffer an average of at least 60 attacks a day, Bostick said work was continuing at the vast majority of about 90 project sites across the country.

“You are seeing a couple of areas being affected, and while it may have an impact in those areas, when you add up the work throughout the country, it will not have a significant impact,” he said.

But even in areas not directly involved in fighting, the threat of mortar or bomb attack means large amounts of money must be spent on security rather than projects themselves. In many areas, reconstruction workers must be accommodated in on-site facilities, with their own guards, further pushing up the cost and time needed to do the work.

So far only about $800 million has been paid out to contractors of the overall $18.4 billion allocated for rebuilding Iraq, where slow progress in delivering basic services has fuelled anti-American sentiment. US generals respond to the criticism by pointing to $7 billion that has already been committed to contracts for projects they say will generate hundreds of jobs for unemployed Iraqis.

Bostick said at least 60 000 Iraqis were already employed on projects managed by US civilians aiming to improve utilities including the electricity supply in Iraq, where residents often cite blackouts as the biggest problem after insecurity.

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters massed in at least seven Iraqi towns and cities this week to support Sadr, the most recognisable face of resistance to the presence of US troops currently based in Iraq.

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