There is much more work to be done. We've already spent more than a billion dollars on urgent reconstruction projects in areas threatened by the insurgency. In the next several months, over $9 billion will be spent on contracts that will help Iraqis rebuild schools, refurbish hospitals and health clinics, repair bridges, upgrade the electricity grid, and modernize the communications system. Prime Minister Allawi and I both agree that the pace of reconstruction should be accelerated. We're working toward that goal.
While billions of US taxpayer dollars have been awarded in lucrative contracts to companies such as Bechtel and Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root, there are few signs that any reconstruction has actually taken place in war torn Iraq.
The infrastructure is in a state of collapse, with 70% unemployment.
One reason for this incredibly high rate is that out of $1.5 Billion in contracts paid out of Iraq’s funds, 85% has gone to US and British companies who rarely hire Iraqis.
Iraqi firms, by contrast, have received 2% of the contracts paid for with the same Iraqi funds.
Fadl Abid Oda, 30 years old, has taken it upon himself to do something that western companies in Iraq have failed to do.
In a tiny room off a busy street in the Orfali district of Baghdad, Fadl stands in his small library.
“Anyone can take a book from here,” he says, “People can take smaller books for three days, six days for larger books. But anyone who wants to read here in the library, it’s ok, he can get any book he wants.”
There is a shelf of tattered books on one of the walls. The front of the library, which is actually an old vegetable stall, opens to the street. The 8 chairs which line the 12’x12’ room are filled with people reading books.
While companies like KBR have been investigated for overcharging the US government $61 million for importing fuel into Iraq, Fadl is pleased with his project.
“We are working on very little finances, so we are trying to connect with anyone who can get us any book,” he says while waving his hand across the small bookshelf, “The budget for this project is now $200. We do this by taking 75 cents per month from people who read here. We try to bring even CD’s for computers, and anything else that is cheap.”
Hashim Ashure, a 24 year-old who regularly visits the tiny library, sits in one of the old chairs with a book in his hand.
“My reading is not that good, but we are learning about reading and writing and how useful it is. Before I was a soldier and it was a very difficult life and I didn’t have any time to read,” he says while shifting an old book back and forth in his hands, “But now it is very useful for me, and I like to come here everyday at night to read. I find it is very fun and it’s beautiful to learn. I feel like I was blind before.”
Last January Bechtel Corporation was awarded another contract which included repairing Iraq’s electricity grids. While the contract is valued at up to $1.8 Billion, most of Baghdad averages less than 6 hours of electricity per day.
Fadl bends over to light the two small candles on his table.
“We can’t really call this a library, but this is the best we can do. Somebody has to do it,” he says while holding out his arms. “It is a small place with a few chairs, with one table, and we have a little bit of books. We wish that our library will help educate people. We want to educate all the youth in my neighborhood.”