WASHINGTON - Fewer than 25,000 Iraqis are working on
projects in the U.S. reconstruction effort, tempering expectations
that more than $18 billion in American spending would jump-start
Iraq's economy and trigger a surge in goodwill toward the United
U.S. officials blame bureaucratic delays in contracting and the
recent increase in violence for the low employment numbers, which
represent less than 1 percent of Iraq's work force of more than 7
The Bush administration is aiming to more than double the number
of Iraqi workers to 50,000 in less than two months when
Washington expects to hand over limited authority to a caretaker
Iraqis are thinking twice about working for the Americans
because of the latest violence, which has targeted not only U.S.
troops but also Iraqis working with them.
Violence earlier this spring ''had an impact on the numbers of
workers showing up,'' said Navy Capt. Bruce Cole, spokesman for the
Pentagon's Iraq Program Management Office. ''Some were probably
afraid to be seen working with us on those projects. Our numbers
are starting to come back up, though.''
Conversely, military commanders have cited frustration over the
continuing lack of jobs as one reason for the spike in violence,
which left at least 136 Americans dead in April alone.
The violence puts the United States in a tough spot: More
reconstruction is difficult without better security, while
employing more Iraqis is one surefire way to increase security by
calming the population.
The latest fighting not only prevented work on current projects
but hampered future efforts by delaying the arrival of coalition
equipment and manpower.
Members of Congress from both parties have criticized the Bush
administration for the slow pace of reconstruction. So far, only
about $1.9 billion in construction projects are under way from the
$18.4 billion Congress approved in November.
''At a time when more and more of the Iraqi people are losing
faith in our good intentions, this is a good indication of how few
average Iraqis are seeing the benefits of reconstruction,'' said
Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the House
appropriations foreign operations subcommittee.
''More Iraqis clearly should be benefiting from the
reconstruction efforts,'' she said.
Administration officials say they're trying to speed the hiring
of Iraqis. More than $10 billion in contracts are expected to be
awarded by July 1.
''We haven't had a problem with recruiting'' Iraqis, Cole said.
''In the areas we've been in, they're very willing to do the work,
very eager to have jobs.''
This week, the Pentagon's Program Management Office in Baghdad
reported 24,179 Iraqis working on rebuilding projects funded by the
$18.4 billion approved by Congress in November. That's up from
21,808 last week and just 3,517 the week before.
During April, Iraqis worked on only four projects all of them
rehabilitating military bases for the new Iraqi security forces,
Cole said in a telephone interview from Baghdad. The four base
rehabilitation projects, now nearing completion, once employed as
many as 8,800 Iraqis.
Other reconstruction projects overseen by the military or State
Department have created an estimated 400,000 jobs in Iraq, said
Maj. Joe Yoswa, a spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority
governing Iraq. Those projects are not part of the emergency
rebuilding package Congress approved in November; most are paid for
with seized Iraqi funds or oil revenues.
More than 6,000 Iraqis in a total work force of more than
24,000 are working for Halliburton Corp., which has contracts to
rebuild Iraq's oil infrastructure and supply U.S. troops, company
spokeswoman Wendy Hall said.
U.S. Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer and other officials told
Congress last fall the $18.4 billion was needed urgently to reverse
instability and poverty and keep Iraq from becoming a fertile
ground for terrorists.
Seven months later, U.S. officials say the needs are just as
''Of course we're not satisfied,'' Deputy Secretary of State
Richard Armitage said. ''We've got a lot of reasons why some things
aren't where we want them to be, and security probably chief among
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said ''fairly lengthy
contracting procedures'' were another major holdup. Part of the
delay arose from a squabble between the Pentagon and State
Department over which agency would oversee the spending.
The Pentagon won and created the Program Management Office,
which awarded several reconstruction contracts in March.
Those contracts call for hiring as many Iraqi companies and
workers as possible, Cole said. Bechtel National Inc., which has a
more than $1 billion contract to manage Iraq reconstruction, has
hired 147 Iraqi firms out of 215 subcontractors, company
spokeswoman Valerie Kazanjian said.
California-based Parsons Corp., which has several construction
and management contracts in Iraq, has not hired many Iraqis because
most of the projects are still being planned, company spokeswoman
Erin Kuhlman said.
''Part of the goal of these programs is to put some life back
into the economy, to hire local subcontractors as well as provide
jobs,'' Kuhlman said. ''We definitely are mindful of that. Besides,
we don't have the labor force ourselves to send over there. That
would be too expensive.''
On the Net:
Iraq Program Management Office: http://www.rebuilding-iraq.net
© 2004 Associated Press