MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. On this day three years ago, President Bush stood on an American aircraft carrier and declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq. Those now unforgettable images of the President landing in his green flight suit and standing in front of a huge banner reading Mission Accomplished still underscore the thorny challenges that came after the fall of Baghdad.
NORRIS: While making that May 1st address on the aircraft carrier, the President did acknowledge that the U.S. had difficult work to do in Iraq. The latest report from the Special Inspector General in charge of monitoring the reconstruction in Iraq underscores just how difficult that work is. The report, which was published today, finds that the $22 billion reconstruction effort has been "punctuated by shortfalls and deficiencies." Basic services such as water, sewage and electricity still operate at below prewar levels. So does oil production. Stuart Bowen is the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. He says two significant programs did not meet expectations. One, Task Force Shield, a security program, to protect the oil and the electricity infrastructure. The other, he says, was the construction of primary healthcare centers throughout Iraq.
STUART BOWEN: A hundred and fifty were contracted with Parsons Global a little over two years ago. And, in fact, only six have been completed now as the contract is being terminated. 14 more will be turned over, but a substantial sum has been laid out by the government and not much progress has been made. The 120 clinics that haven't been completed will be finished by other contracting means. They are in various stages of completion.
NORRIS: How much money has been spent on those healthcare centers?
BOWEN: $188 million.
NORRIS: And does that include the six that have been built, the 14 projected, or was that...
BOWEN: Yes. That's how much has been spent on the program to date. It was a $240 million program. $188 million has been spent before the contract was terminated.
NORRIS: We've mentioned problems with electricity, with water, with sewage, all operating below prewar levels. How can the U.S. hope to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis if they cannot provide basic services still, three years into the war?
BOWEN: Those dropoffs, which occurred over the last half of last year were tied, I believe, to both deteriorating infrastructure and insurgent attacks. But the good news in the last quarter is in each of those areas we've seen increases. We've gone up from 1.8 million barrels per day produced to almost 2.1 today. More Iraqis have access to clean water than last quarter, a significant increase. And there's now, outside of Baghdad, access to electricity that is meeting prewar levels. In Baghdad it's still an issue, but the story, the balanced picture of our report, which indeed acknowledges some shortfalls and deficiencies, is nevertheless a larger theme of gradual progress in Iraq's reconstruction.
NORRIS: Now, this is the assessment of a U.S. official sitting here in a studio in Washington, D.C. If I asked the same thing of someone who was living in Baghdad, what do you think I would hear?
BOWEN: Well, it's got a long way to go. There's no doubt. I'm talking about the program that we started to get Iraq started on the relief and reconstruction of a country in great need. The U.N. said at least $56 billion needed, that was a conservative estimate. It's going to take a $100 billion, probably, to get Iraq's infrastructure operating optimally.
NORRIS: You've looked closely and carefully at all of these reconstruction programs. Is this a case where the U.S. did fail to anticipate the difficult issues it would face in Iraq?
BOWEN: What wasn't anticipated was the level of the insurgency. The security issue overlays everything that goes on in Iraq. I had a phone call this morning from my office and they were in the hallway, couldn't work because of a rocket attack. Two rockets landed in the green zone. And that's just emblematic of what it's like to work in Iraq.
NORRIS: Stuart Bowen, thanks so much for coming in to speak to us.
BOWEN: Thank you, Michele.
NORRIS: Stuart Bowen, Jr. is the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.