IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Reconstruction in Iraq proceeds slowly

Rebuilding Iraq is the largest American aid project since the Marshall Plan after World War II. The U.S. has appropriated more than $18 billion for reconstruction --but a year and a half later, only a fraction of that money has been spent. NBC's Ned Colt reports.

It was a celebration — the reopening of a bridge in Tikrit bombed by the U.S. during the war. An Army band played as balloons soared into the sky. Hovering overhead — four attack helicopters — a stark reminder that an attack can come at any time here. Four workers were killed on this project. The insurgents are now threatening American plans to rebuild bridges, power plants, roads, water and sanitation systems.

The amount of untreated sewage pumped into the Tigris River every day would fill more than 200 Olympic-size swimming pools. The Tigris is the source of Baghdad's drinking water. That means increasing frustration among Iraqis like the Hanoush family, who still have to boil water and use generators for backup power.

"When the USA decided to come and let's say "free" this country, it was supposed to know the steps to make a quicker progress," says Najla Hanoush.

That progress has been stalled by insurgents — who increasingly target foreign workers — close to 150 kidnapped since April. They are also hitting reconstruction projects, like Thursday's car bombings at the Baghdad water pumping station. The pace of rebuilding?

"Glacial," says Johanna Mendelson-Forman of the United Nations Foundation. "The reconstruction at this point is essentially halted because we are in a war mode."

But there are other problems as well. Out of the $18 billion appropriated to rebuild Iraq, only $1 billion has been spent. As for that money — an estimated 25 percent goes to security costs, 15 percent to insurance, and another 15 percent is siphoned off by corruption. There's little left for the rebuilding itself. 

"There has definitely been a sort of general approach of making it up as we go along," says Frederick Barton of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "That's one reason why we've had to spend much more money than we ever have anywhere before — to a lesser effect."

It all adds up to a lack of progress that plays into the insurgent strategy of undercutting any support here for America and the interim government.