Iraq: Work To Be Proud Of
By Andrew S. Natsios
The last time I was in Iraq, I met with a delegation of graduate students from
Baghdad's best universities. Two hours into the discussion, one student said
something extraordinary to me. He likened us to "doctors" and Iraq to a
"patient" who needed radical surgery: "You [Americans] have started the
operation. We are on the operating table. You can't leave now. You've got to
finish," he pleaded.
I let him know that the United States was committed to restoring Iraq to health
and would stay through the period of convalescence.
As head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the agency at
the forefront of reconstruction efforts, let me review what we've done in the
USAID was charged with two essential tasks: humanitarian relief and
reconstruction. Traditionally, it takes months to move from the humanitarian to
the reconstruction phases of an intervention. We set out to do both at once.
Careful planning and inter-agency coordination paid off. We worked closely with
the military's civil affairs units and several key contractors and private
relief groups and headed off the widely-predicted post-liberation humanitarian
We moved almost seamlessly to reconstruction. The need was enormous:
-- Our first priorities were water, sanitation, public health, essential
services and infrastructure. Vast swathes of the country -- particularly in the
largely Shia south -- were destitute. No new infrastructure had been built for
more than a decade in the south, and very little basic maintenance had been
-- The draining of the southern marshlands was an ecological and human
catastrophe, killing and sending hundreds of thousands into exile and destroying
an immense and unique natural water filtration system, the fishing industry and
water buffalo herds that provide dairy for the south.
-- Every statistical measurement of individual well-being dropped sharply in the
last years of Saddam's rule. The data on infant mortality and maternal death
rates, in female literacy and family income, in life expectancy, caloric intake,
all pointed downward.
We've spent more than $3 billion so far -- a level of commitment not seen since
the end of World War II and the Marshall Plan, to which USAID traces its
-- We have rehabilitated eight power plants and are installing three new ones.
We are also replacing towers, stringing wires, rebuilding lines and installing
-- We have played a key role in restoring Iraq's transport and communication
systems. Among other things, we have repaired the Baghdad airport and the
country's deep-water port. We have rebuilt bridges, improved rail service and
repaired the fiber optic network.
-- We expect child mortality and water-borne disease to drop sharply as a result
of our commitment to repair and rehabilitate the water and sewerage system
throughout the whole of the country. We are in the process of vaccinating 3
million Iraqi children. We are reequipping 600 health-care clinics, training
doctors and nurses and distributing high-protein supplementary food rations to
hundreds of thousands of pregnant and nursing mothers.
-- USAID has also helped uncover mass graves where as many as 400,000 Iraqi
victims of Saddam's genocide campaigns lie buried. Hundreds of thousands of
others, including untold numbers of children, died from deliberate neglect,
indifference and politically motivated deprivation.
And we're helping the Iraqi Human Rights Association inventory the mass murder
that took place under Saddam. A spokesman of the group put things very well when
he said that what Iraq needs most of all is "not technicians and engineers" --
"but someone to rebuild our souls."
-- Which brings us to USAID's efforts to rehabilitate and restructure the Iraqi
educational system so that it can shed the legacy of four decades of
totalitarian rule and enter the ranks of the civilized world as a fully modern
and productive nation.
-- We're also working to build democracy at the grassroots, empowering the many
enlightened and talented people of Iraq, men and women, who were repressed and
silenced under Ba'athist rule.
We have built local governments throughout the country, so they can deliver the
essential services a modern Iraq needs. Our efforts have resulted in the
formation of councils in 16 governates, 78 districts, 192 cities and
sub-districts and 392 neighborhoods representing 80 percent of the country's
We've got a lot yet to do -- but what USAID's dedicated workers have achieved so
far, sometimes at considerable personal risk, should be a source of pride for
(This column by Andrew S. Natsios, administrator of the U.S. Agency for
International Development, was published in the New York Post May 7 and is in
the public domain. No republication restrictions.)
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S.
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