Temperatures Rise

Power, water, planning—and the lack thereof—in southern Iraq

Hassan's claim that the Japanese are wasting money on dead-end projects is a common one here. Yeates says one of the biggest problems plaguing reconstruction is a lack of strategic planning. In other words, no one has a real understanding of exactly what southern Iraq needs. Many current projects were born of educated guesses, not the result of a master plan.

"There are lots of well-trained [Iraqi] engineers," Yeates says. "But there's no experience in strategic planning. So things tend to get replaced on an ad hoc basis. There's been not one attempt at a master plan."

Down the drain: Technician Mahdi Hassan at a crumbling water plant
photo: David Axe
Down the drain: Technician Mahdi Hassan at a crumbling water plant

Ali Mohammad, 38, an Iraqi engineer at Mott MacDonald, blames Baghdad. He says Iraqi politicians, even if they understood the need for strategic planning, are interested only in small projects that make for good press.

Of course, even the most forward-thinking government minister would be largely incapable of making a real difference. Baghdad's all but bankrupt—and the provinces are even worse off. Barring big investment from Gulf countries, the only meaningful capital in Iraq comes from the U.S. and other coalition governments. Yeates says members of the U.S. Congress holding the purse strings have the same problem that shortsighted Iraqi politicians do: They have no idea what Iraq really needs. But that doesn't keep them from approving billions for specific projects. "Congress needs to approve [more] flexible funds," Yeates says, which would allow money to shift to projects that will make a real difference as the country's needs become clearer.

But needs will never become clearer without planning. Mott MacDonald engineers say someone needs to undertake a comprehensive survey of Iraq's infrastructure needs so that people like Williams and Yeates can build power plants and water treatment facilities in the right mix, where they're needed. Delay means that everyday Iraqis, like shop owner Hassan in Samawah, become only more hostile to foreigners.

Like many other Iraqis, Hassan demands to know when the British Army will leave Al Muthanna.

Lieutenant Sqot Wiseman, leading a patrol through the market, answers Hassan the way he always does, rumors of a 2006 withdrawal aside. "When Al Muthanna can take care of itself," he says.

But to take care of itself, Al Muthanna and the rest of southern Iraq need power, water, and planning. All three are in short supply.

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