Rice, Conrad Face Off Over Water in Iraq

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In Senate Budget Committee hearings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) have a disagreement about the availability of potable water in post-war Iraq.


Today, at Senate Budget Committee hearings, a reminder that as either Mark Twain or Benjamin Disraeli said, there are three kinds of lies. Lies, damn lies, and statistics.


The witness was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The questioner was North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad. At issue, in Iraq today, is there now more running water or less running water than there was before the war?

KENT CONRAD: Madame Secretary, did I hear you right when you said that water and sewer has improved in Iraq?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Yes, you did. We have increased the capacity for clean water for several million Iraqis, and four million Iraqis have better sewage than before the war.

SIEGEL: To which the senator replied by citing a story in last Thursday's New York Times. It was about what the Inspector General for reconstruction in Iraq had told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

CONRAD: The percentage with drinking water before the war, according to the Inspector General, 50 percent had it before the war, now only 32 percent do. On percentage with sewage service, 24 percent before the war, only 20 percent now. So who are we to believe?

RICE: Well, let me give you the, the numbers. And the Inspector General, of course, I've worked with, and I actually went over his briefing before he gave that briefing. He came and gave the same briefing to me. On potable water, millions of persons served, pre-war 5.5, 2005 average 8.6. We hope by the end state that 12.5 will be the case. Sewage, millions of persons served, pre-war about 500,000, average 2005, five. So the numbers have been going up on water and sewage. The problems, you're absolutely right, Senator, have been on oil and electricity. And...

CONRAD: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

SIEGEL: The senator repeated the Inspector General's figures for declines in drinking water and sewer service. The secretary said she was familiar with those numbers, and she explained the disparity.

RICE: I think this may be an issue of whether we are talking about delivery or capacity. We have increased the capacity for clean water for several million Iraqis and for four million Iraqis in sewage.

CONRAD: Can I say to you, though, I mean, you know, what matters to people is getting it.

NORRIS: To which the secretary of state said this.

RICE: That's true, Senator, but without improved capacity, more Iraqis are not going to get it. We have concentrated on improving the capacity to deliver these services.

SIEGEL: An obvious misunderstanding cleared up, whether the glass is half full or whether it has the capacity to be so.

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