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'They Did the Destroying. So Why Can't They Get Everything Working Again?'
Published on Saturday, April 19, 2003 by the lndependent/UK
'They Did the Destroying. So Why Can't They Get Everything Working Again?'
by Kim Sengupta in Baghdad

As the stifling heat of the summer begins to bite in Baghdad and the rare trickle from the tap turns a sludge brown, the people of Baghdad are still waiting for the Americans to restore electricity and water.

The most senior US military officer in the Iraqi capital, Major-General James Mattis, had pledged that power would be back by yesterday. "Getting the water, the power, the trash back up, that's absolutely critical," he said.

Instead, parts of the city which had some supplies over the past few days found even they had been cut off. The Palestine Hotel, where the international media and US Marines are based, was without water and, after midday, electricity.

Baghdad, whose public services were once of First World standard, has slipped back 100 years. As well as the lack of power, the telephone system has not worked for more than two weeks since the Americans bombed the exchanges.

Eleven days after US forces occupied the city and four days after their engineers were supposed to have begun working around the clock at the power plants, the lack of amenities is fueling the anti-American feeling in the streets. "They did the destroying, why can't they repair them?" is the most common question.

Thirty-five Baghdad hospitals are closed because of looting and arson. The three still functioning are reporting water-borne diseases. And this is in a country where, Unicef reports show, the destruction of the previous war brought typhoid, dysentery, hepatitis, cholera and polio. The diseases had already reached endemic proportions and were the prime killer of children under five.

Recently declassified documents of the American Defense Intelligence Agency show the Allies deliberately targeted Iraq's water supply during the previous conflict. Twelve years on, half the country's water treatment plants are still out of action.

The US and Britain are blocking 14 deals valued at $22m (14m) for water and sewage treatment under the UN oil-for food deal because the material involved is deemed to have military as well as civilian use.

There is no evidence of such targeted destruction by the Americans and the British this time. But gas pipelines and diesel stocks were bombed, crippling the power stations.

General Mattis had said the US military is helping the Iraqis with technical expertise and material. But at the Durah plant, which once supplied 30 per cent of electricity for Baghdad, the American airborne regiments were there only to guard the premises.

Janan Matti, the director of the plant, said: "I had asked the Americans if they could spare us some diesel, but they said they did not have any. As far as the work is concerned, we are doing it ourselves.

"The main problem is that we need compressed gas to start the turbines. The pipelines have been damaged by bombing and we are now repairing them. The gas comes from Kirkuk and we need to talk to people there about supplies. But because the telephone system was destroyed we cannot communicate. We had kept the system going until 5 April by people staying here and working in shifts. But then the pipeline was bombed and we had to shut down all the units.

"Before the war, 600 people worked at Durah. About half of them have returned. That is not an immediate problem. I can provide power with what I have got. But what we need is the compressed gas.

"I am surprised the Americans think power can be restored now when we have not got that. I think it will probably be next week before we can restore power."

The Saba Nissan water treatment project, north of Baghdad, was kept operational during the bombing by staff who stayed behind. A fierce battle between US and Iraqi forces behind the plant left the area strewn with destroyed tanks and armored cars and spent shells.

"We had bombs and shells going off right next to here, but fortunately the plant itself was not hit," Hashim Hassan, the general manager, said. "Three of our 12 diesel generators are out of order because of lack of spare parts. Our engineers are trying to repair them, but I do not know how much longer they are going to be." US soldiers are also guarding this plant. They arrived after Mr Hassan and 12 of his staff, along with seven human shields had fought off gangs of armed looters for three days and nights.

"We were expecting the violence, so along with our equipment and food we had also kept some weapons here," Mr Hassan said. "One of the human shields, an American, was a former soldier and he took one of our guns, an AK-47, and kept guard. The looters were shooting at us and we were shooting back at them."

Mr Hassan, 43, stayed at the plant with his workers, going home for short visits to check on his wife, Hana, and six-month-old daughter, Gid. "Of course all our families were worried," he said. "But what we were doing was essential work and they understood that."

Dikra Mohammed, 33, the operations manager, went home at night. "I suppose it is because I am a woman. My parents insisted that I go home," she said. "It is odd that everyone went through such a lot to keep this place going and now, with the Americans in charge, with all their resources, there is such difficulty with electricity and water. It is strange."

© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd


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