Parting gifts to Iraq
THE US departure has led to one of the biggest movements of troops and equipment of modern times and one of the biggest fire sales.
The military says it has given around 3.5 million items to the Iraqi government, worth more than $353m. Doing so, it estimates, has saved around $605m in transport costs either back to the US or to Afghanistan.
Much of the equipment left behind has been quickly put into service by the main beneficiary, the Iraqi military, which has also bought some equipment, such as Humvees and weapons, as part of a tender process.
From a peak of more than 500 bases in 2007, the US now has only two in southern Iraq, and both will be closed by the end of the month. The giant footprint the US once had here also brought with it an environmental footprint, and Iraqi officials feared the war would have a toxic legacy.
However, those fears have steadily dissipated, with 1,400 sites cleaned up since 2010, along with 10,000 tonnes of waste and 6,000 tonnes of recycling, according to figures supplied by the military last month. Around 70,000 tonnes of metal has been sold to scrap merchants and wrecking yards.
Meanwhile, a social and environmental audit is now also starting to take shape. The United Nations’ development programme released information compiled from Iraq’s planning ministry, collected in the first three months of this year.
The data paints a picture of a society still struggling from a lack of basic services. Of the almost 29,000 households that responded, 35 per cent said improving on the 14.6 hours of electricity received on average each day (at least half through
privately run generators) should be a top priority for the authorities.
The study showed that 90 per cent of households supplement the meagre city supply with costly neighbourhood generators.
The Dora station, which supplies Baghdad, has been overworked and underpowered since the start of the war. During the
height of Iraq’s savage summer it can supply city households with little more than three hours of power each day. Extra efficiencies have increased the station’s output to around 3,500MW, but it has not come close to matching the extra need
generated by widespread access to white goods.
The government has a plan to buy electricity from barges moored off the southern coast this summer and aims to have a new power network in place by 2014, but after eight years, often in the dark, many Iraqis doubt lawmakers will deliver.
Only 30 per cent of households have access to a sanitation network and 59 per cent of homes rated their access to water as “bad or very bad”. And in the health sector, the good access to primary care is not matched by access to specialist services.
Up to 60 per cent of GPs and specialists present when Baghdad fell either fled out of fear for their lives or became economic migrants. Many have not returned.
The lack of services is often used as a refrain by Iraqis when US and Iraqi leaders point to progress in the country. Violence has fallen sharply but there are still on average 10 incidents each day nationwide.
The notion of a Marshall plan, similar to that which rebuilt western Europe after the Second World War, has looked illusory in Iraq, despite US pledges. Large and growing oil revenues are not trickling down and an infrastructure network ravaged
throughout three decades of war and neglect is in no shape to help the country face the future. — The Guardian, London