St. Petersburg Times
Online: Iraq
Print story Subscribe to the Times


Ruined nation awaits light, water, food

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 17, 2003

With much of Iraq lacking power, water, food and order, the United States and international organizations worked to restore a war-ravaged infrastructure that was already corroded by years of neglect and sanctions.

Progress reported in cities

It could take weeks to restore Iraq's power grid and water system, though some cities are already showing good progress, coalition officials say.

"The basic necessities of food and water and power, it's coming in," said Army Lt. Col. Kevin Kille, operations officer at the coalition's Humanitarian Operations Center in Kuwait, "and I think the people are satisfied that relief is already in place and that more is coming."

Rebooting such basic utilities is viewed as key to restoring order to the war-torn nation. But a system already run down by years of sanctions and neglect under President Saddam Hussein was driven only further into the ground by nearly a month of war.

Electricity is needed to restart water pumps, get hospitals up to full strength and give light and power to crews trying to repair other infrastructure, he said Wednesday.

Troops secured a main power plant in Baghdad on Monday, and coalition engineers have since met twice there with Iraqi officials to discuss repairs, Brooks said. About 200 employees have returned to help with the work.

Some utilities were believed to have been sabotaged by fleeing Iraqis, while others were probably put out of action by errant coalition bombs.

Access to water and electricity varies widely across the country, Kille said. It is generally better in cities that were the first to fall, such as Umm Qasr and Karbala, and worse in those taken later.

Engineers are in all of Iraq's major cities and are still assessing the damage, Kille said Tuesday. But even certain areas of Baghdad are too dangerous for engineers to venture into.

He said it will take weeks for all power and water systems to be up and running again, though some places make take only a week or so.

About 40 percent of Baghdad gets power at least part of the day, Kille said. Brooks said Wednesday that Basra's water system was functioning at about 60 percent of the needed capacity, the same as before the war.

Relief on way; more coming

At least 60 trucks left Jordan on Wednesday to deliver flour and medical supplies in neighboring Iraq.

A U.S. military plane also flew thousands of meal packets into northern Iraq from Germany, and Arab leaders pledged millions of dollars in aid.

Jordan's government sent 11 trucks with medical supplies. In addition, 50 trucks carrying flour donated by the World Food Program left the Jordanian border post of Karameh.

Health Minister Waleed al-Maa'ni said the shipment of 88 tons of medicine was donated by his agency and included antibiotics, pain killers, burn ointments and gauze.

The supplies were going to al-Kharkh hospital in Baghdad for distribution to other Iraqi hospitals, al-Maa'ni told the Associated Press. He said another medical shipment would leave today.

Hospital staffers take aid home

Well-fed and well-dressed, Dr. Saber Joda walked out of Basra General Hospital on Wednesday carrying home a large shopping bag filled with humanitarian aid sent from the United Arab Emirates.

The aid had been delivered to the hospital in this southern city for the first time since the war, and as Joda and other members of the staff hauled bags and boxes emblazoned with Red Crescent stickers, some were besieged by furious relatives of the sick.

Abdur Hamad, 32, was seething. "They distributed the aid only to the doctors and hospital staff. Sick people have no water to drink," he complained, gesticulating angrily. "Everything is as it was before, under Saddam Hussein. The food is going to people with high positions, and that's all."

Suddenly he spotted a hospital staffer laden with two shopping bags filled with milk, biscuits, water and other aid items.

"Look at her!" he shouted, then confronted her angrily. "Why do sick people have no water when you are taking it?'

"It's only for staff. I'm taking it home," responded Hayfa Lateef, 32. "They gave it to me. What should I do, throw it away?" She said she had not been paid this month.

Saber, the director of general surgery at the hospital, said salaries had not been paid for three months.

He defended the decision to hand out bottled water and food to staff members, citing the lack of pay. Although he seemed a little nonplused when asked why needy patients didn't get the aid first, he recovered quickly, saying that was someone else's decision.

But the head of the hospital kitchen, Thaera Hashem, 42, hauling home a box of bottled water on her shoulder, said it was Saber's decision. A group of staff members walking out with her agreed.

Pain bears anti-American fruit

Just days ago, U.S. troops were cheered and kissed as they destroyed the symbols of Saddam Hussein's regime. Today, after a week of chaos, it's a whole different story.

After looters ran wild, American forces shot civilians and the lack of basic services spread misery across the land, many Iraqis turned their anger away from Saddam Hussein and toward what they saw as their new oppressor: the United States of America.

"They are aggressors," wheezed Ali Ahmed, 17, lying in a hospital bed as a tube drained fluid from his lungs. "They destroyed us. They put us in war and didn't let us sleep. They just raided Baghdad."

Ahmed said he was shot in the back by an American bullet Friday as he left his home to purchase bread for his family's breakfast. A suicide bomber attacked U.S. troops up the street, and Ahmed accused the Americans of responding with indiscriminate fire.

U.S. troops rolled across the deserts of Iraq expecting to find people dancing in the streets and cheering their arrival. There was some of that. But there was also anger.

Many Iraqis say that could subside quickly if the Americans, now de facto rulers of their nation, can quickly restore basic services, bring law and order to their cities, and stop shooting their people.

Others say they need to do one more thing: leave.

"If Americans and British are here to destroy the regime and liberate Iraq, we welcome them," said Emad Fadil, a 26-year-old worker in the southern city of Basra. "But if they come to occupy Iraq, we will fight them to the end -- like the Palestinians."

More police are in works

The Pentagon's search for foreign peacekeeping forces for Iraq gathered some momentum Wednesday as the State Department solicited bids from private U.S. contractors for training a national Iraqi police force and overhauling the country's judicial and prison systems.

Two European allies that have supported the Bush administration's war in Iraq, Denmark and the Netherlands, said they might be willing to send peacekeeping forces to Iraq to help stabilize the country. Italy, Bulgaria and Albania also offered forces this week.

As a first step toward reforming the Iraqi police, the Justice Department plans to send an "assessment" mission to Iraq as early as next week to determine precisely how large an American presence will be required.

-- Information from the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post was used in this report.

Print story Subscribe to the Times

Eyes on Iraq
Reports from a region in conflict
Today's coverage
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
  • Iraq: Ruined nation awaits light, water, food
  • Iraq: Museum looting may have been planned
  • Iraq: Iraqi weapons experts elude capture
  • Iraq: Terror alert relaxed as fighting diminishes
  • Iraq: Selfless final act saved his troops
  • Presidential adviser launches online chats
  • Nation in brief: Tests focus on missing pregnant woman
  • Health in brief: Aging gene finding opens door to wider scope of research
  • World in brief: Sanctions on Cuba considered
  • U.S., North Korea plan talks in bid to end nuclear standoff
  • Fighting terror: Group cites erosion of rights
  • Fighting terror: Abbas arrest triggers legal debate

    Related links
    Online journal

    Reports from a region in conflict

    World & Nation