Iraqi Official Discusses Pace of Municipal Rebuilding

Steve Inskeep talks to Nasreen Berwari, Iraq's Minister of Municipalities and Public Works, about the pace of reconstruction in Iraq. She was in the United States last week, touring waste treatment facilities.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

In this part of the program, we're hearing two views of Iraq's reconstruction. The United States committed billions to rebuild Iraq; nearly three years after the United States invasion, many Iraqis have less electricity, less clean water, and even less oil, than before the war.

INSKEEP: In a moment we'll meet the American who leads the United States Army Corp of Engineers in Iraq.

We'll start with an Iraqi whose job is all about reconstruction. She is the Minister of Municipalities and Public Works, a portfolio she's held since shortly after the fall of Baghdad. Her name is Nasreen Berwari. She's a Kurd.

Last week she visited Virginia to get a tour of American projects like sewage treatment plants. She also sat down to talk about her country's infrastructure.

Ms. NASREEN BERWARI (Iraq Minister of Public Works): The basic needs for Iraqi reconstruction are estimated to be between 60 and 70 billion dollars, and this is just to get things to the basic, and not go beyond 100 percent coverage of services.

Take water sector alone. We will need annual investment of one billion dollars to get to the minimum need. Over the twelve years, if I get two billion a year for water, I will only then be able to make 100 percent coverage of services.

INSKEEP: You said if; you don't know if you will?

Ms. BERWARI: Of course I don't know, because there has been only allocation of 10 percent of what the Ministry needs to cover water and sanitation and municipal services. And this puts us in a very difficult situation.

There has been concerted efforts to attract extra funding from the World's Bank, from other donor countries like Japan; this unfortunately has been slow process.

INSKEEP: Before the war, United States officials said that Iraqi oil revenues could pay for Iraq's reconstruction. Three years in, now that billions of dollars have been spent from the United States and other countries, are you even getting close to the point where Iraqi oil revenues might be able to pay for the rest of your reconstruction?

Ms. BERWARI: Iraqi oil revenue will take care of Iraqi needs eventually, and very soon, I hope. And that's where the investment on Iraq now is so important, because this next four years will be very critical for Iraq's stabilization and economic revival.

INSKEEP: Let me ask, who's controlling the many municipalities that you work with across Iraq?

The New York Times recently reported from a town called Salman Pak, outside of Baghdad. It's a majority Sunni-Muslim, Sunni-Arab town, but there's a Shiite security force that was increasingly controlled the place, and one day people woke up and discovered their Sunni mayor had been forced to flee and the Shiite's were completely in control. Is that a common story?

Ms. BERWARI: That's not a common story, that's a very isolated incident.

In the Ministry of Municipality and Public Works, we supervise the operation and the functioning of over 251 municipalities. So if you have one or two municipalities who have such incidents, it's not much.

We do recognize and agree that there are some complex situations. But they are pockets; they don't apply to the rest of the country.

Most of the municipalities are now supervised by elected local representatives, where they will monitor, supervise, set priorities for the municipalities to implement.

INSKEEP: When you say the municipalities are operating in a democratic fashion, do you include cities like Basra, where it appears increasingly that Islamic law is supplanting what you might see as secular laws?

Ms. BERWARI: What is happening in Basra, again, it's an isolated incident. And when you think of a country as big as Iraq, as diverse as Iraq, transitioning from a centralized government to a democratic form of government, you will have incidents. You will have isolated situations that will dissolve as the overall situation improve and stabilize.

INSKEEP: This is the essential question, isn't it, for you right now? Because the people are asking about Iraq, whether it will remain a coherent country, or whether it will devolve into regions that will turn against one another.

Ms. BERWARI: Well, that's at the heart of the discussions that are taking place now to from the government and the different political parties; and negotiate and talk about making deals that can prepare the ground for the constitutional review process.

But at the end of the day, the structure of Iraq should be set up so that it serves the interests of the people and not the interests of groups or political parties.

INSKEEP: Nasreen Berwari is Iraq's Minister of Municipalities and Public Works. Thanks very much for speaking with us.

Ms. BERWARI: Thank you for hosting me.

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