Transportation and utilities infrastructure are two of the most
dangerous and arduous areas of development work for government
organizations and private contractors in Iraq.
the country, distribution of electricity and potable water has
failed to meet the projected post-invasion levels, and transportation
systems are subject to constant disruption.
In some major municipalities, such as Baghdad and Basra,
basic utility availability is still below pre-war levels. Insurgent
violence and lack of security has hit the electricity sector especially
hard because power supplies are a constant target, especially
in densely populated areas.
Efforts to provide Baghdad, once replete with electricity,
with enough energy for even basic services face continuous setbacks.
"All the transfer lines are in hot spots and are targeted by
terrorist attacks," Saadi Mehdi Ali, the Electricity Ministry's
inspector general, told the New York Times in December.
As of December 2006, seven out of the nine transfer lines serving
Baghdad were down, largely due to coordinated insurgent attacks.
The city was running on at least 1,000 megawatts of privately
generated power, and electricity was available for only part of
"It was better in Baghdad [before the war], because Saddam's
government made a conscious decision to provide more power to
Baghdad then to any other part of Iraq," said Rajiv Chandrasekaran,
assistant managing editor of the Washington Post and the paper's
former bureau chief in Baghdad. "The post-war change was felt
most acutely in Baghdad, because it went from getting 22 hours
a day to getting, at times, 4 to 6 hours a day."
But Baghdad is not the only region in the dark. Throughout Iraq,
electricity output is well below the goals released by the Coalition
Provisional Authority after its arrival in March 2003.
The initial estimates called for the country to be provided with
6,000 megawatts of power, roughly 10-12 hours a day, by July 1,
2004, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction
But while most regions have seen an increase in available electricity,
from between 4 to 8 hours a day in the prewar period to just over
9 hours a day as of December 2006, the original goal has not been
As in Baghdad, the major obstacles
throughout the country have been the poor security of the reconstruction
contractors and newly built electrical projects, as well as the
immense amount of funding being diverted to security. According
to the U.S. Government Accountability Office and State Department
statistics, security costs in the past year represented 16 percent
to 33 percent of overall infrastructure project costs.
The irony, Chandrasekaran said, is that providing and maintaining
secure power sources in highly volatile regions would help mitigate
violence, but the power plants are being disrupted before their
value can be realized.
"Even in more violence-wracked areas, if you can get more power
to places like Ramadi, Bakuba, and others, that is one step in
trying to promote more stability," he said.
Stability in many regions can also be helped with a secure transportation
Much of the $464 million appropriated for transportation by the
Iraq Reconstruction and Relief Fund has been directed toward a
large-scale rehabilitation of airports, the rail system and bridges,
reported the U.S. Agency for International Development.
For those who can afford it, airplane travel has become more
readily available since commercial flights resumed in 2005, following
three major regional airport renovations in Basra, Baghdad and
Erbil. But service is inconsistent and the threat of violence
is still very high, especially in Baghdad.
"The big problem with [the Baghdad airport] still is the security
threat from shoulder-fired missiles, which restricts the flow
of commercial traffic and requires planes to do this sort of corkscrew
landing and takeoff," said Chandrasekaran.
The rail system, which underwent a $230 million overhaul, is
also a major target for insurgents who are lured by the trains'
Lack of ridership further hampered the success of the railroads
and caused the Baghdad-Basra line, one of three major travel corridors,
to be discontinued in early 2006. Now just the Baghdad-Mosul passenger
"Most Iraqis never used the trains [during Saddam' reign]," said
Chandrasekaran. "Many of them had cars or took buses. Fuel was
Car travel is still the preferred mode of transportation for
most Iraqis, although the increase in number of cars, long lines
at fuel pumps, and constant threat of road violence have made
driving more difficult.
Consequently, mending the highway system has been a high priority
for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has completed 370
miles of road construction and hopes to complete the last roadway
project, the Baghdad-Kirkuk Carriageway, by December 2008.
One of the success stories in infrastructure is the communications
sector, with Iraqis accessing domestic mobile phone service for
the first time in the country's history.
Under Saddam there were no mobile phone providers in Iraq and,
according to the State Department, just 1.2 million people out
of the total population of 26 million subscribed to landline phone
But during the looting and violence after U.S. entry into Iraq
in 2003, an estimated half of the landline infrastructure was
damaged, so the need for mobile technology was immediate.
Unlike the electricity and transportation sectors, the cellular
tower infrastructure has been largely safe from violence, in part
because the insurgents rely on mobile phones to coordinate attacks.
"Everybody needs a mobile phone, whether you are a terrorist,
whether you are a government official, or whether you are a member
of the public," Dr. Siyamend Othman, CEO of Iraq's National Communications
and Media Commission, told the Washington Post in January 2006.
As of August 2006, there were over 8 million subscribers to telephone
service, an estimated half of which are mobile users, and multiple
service providers have emerged.
Internet accessibility has not fared as well, with the number
of registered users falling from 207,000 in April 2006 to 198,000
in August, according to the Brookings Institute's Iraq Index.
Water infrastructure development has achieved mixed results. Although
some successful potable water and sanitation projects have been
completed, just 4.6 million Iraqis have improved access to fresh
water, and less than 10 percent of Iraqi homes are serviced by
sewage systems, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"The U.S. effort has focused initially on building potable water
capacity, since clean drinking water is the primary factor in
reducing primary waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid,"
said Lt. Col. Joseph Fraundorfer, deputy chief of water for the
Much like the other sectors, the state of water resources is
much worse in the south than in the north, where autonomous governing
bodies have overseen infrastructure since 2003.
Years of improper environmental management, including a massive
draining of marshlands in southern Iraq by Saddam's government
and the construction of dams in southern Turkey, which cut the
Euphrates River water supply almost in half, have rendered water
undrinkable without treatment in many parts of the south.
"The water is so dirty when it gets down to Basra [from the north]
that they didn't even drink the municipally supplied water," said
Jane Gleason, a development specialist with the contracting company
DAI and chief of party for USAID's Agriculture Reconstruction
and Development Program for Iraq.
That was the case until late 2004, when USAID and Bechtel Corp.
finished rehabilitating Basra's 14 water treatment plants, the
canal system, and the main water reservoir, providing fresh water
to a city accustomed to water with high salinity.
Irrigation throughout the country also was affected by poor management,
but Gleason's ARDI project was able to fix irrigation systems
and provide fresh water to agricultural zones throughout the country
by September 2006.
"We reckon [our project] affected about half a million people,"
she said. "Our focus was in south and south central Iraq. They
needed the most help."
Small-scale projects like DAI's agricultural and irrigation systems
are likely the model for future water, transportation and electricity
infrastructure development in Iraq.
"Small and medium-sized potable water rehabilitation projects
executed by direct contracting to repair and rehabilitate neglected
facilities using Iraqi labor have been the most successful," said
the Army Corps of Engineers' Fraundorfer.