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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Good News Out of Iraq Eclipsed by Bloodshed

WASHINGTON -- For a little more than $38 billion, the United States and its contractors in Iraq have provided 4.6 million people with access to water. They have distributed seeds to Iraqi farmers, improving wheat harvests. With electricity-generating capacity now above prewar levels, they have given many Iraqis more daily hours of power. They have repaired more than 5,000 schools and vaccinated 4.6 million children against polio.

The list goes on. But as the U.S.-led, U.S.-funded portion of Iraq's reconstruction nears its end, U.S. officials and contractors alike are grappling with a cold reality: Thousands of successes in Iraq may add up to a single failure.

"We accomplished a significant amount of work. But it was just overwhelmed by the overlay of violence," said Clifford Mumm, who has spent much of the past three years in Iraq managing projects for Bechtel Corp. "It's hard to be very optimistic."

U.S.-funded projects have long been a target for sabotage. Many of those that were spared remain unused by a population paralyzed by violence.

Yet those inside the reconstruction effort say security concerns were hardly the only problem. Poor planning and coordination by U.S. officials meant that even successful individual projects failed to do the job; for example, health care centers were built at great cost but had no water and sewer service. Poor management by contractors meant that some projects went awry. And now that the United States is handing over reconstruction efforts to Iraq, many worry the Iraqis don't have the training or the money to keep U.S.-built facilities running.

This was not how the rebuilding of Iraq was supposed to go. In the fall of 2003, six months after the U.S. invasion, President George W. Bush promised Iraq "the greatest financial commitment of its kind since the Marshall Plan." Administration aides said they considered that plan, which helped rebuild Europe after World War II, to be a model for Iraq. Congress soon passed a spending bill that was expected to be enough to get Iraq back on its feet.

Riding through the streets of the northern city of Mosul three years later, taxi driver Sattar Khalid Othman has barely noticed. "What reconstruction?" he said. "Today we are drinking untreated water from a plant built decades ago that was never maintained. The electricity only visits us two hours a day. And now we are going backwards. We cook on the firewood we gather from the forests because of the gas shortage."