BAGHDAD — In its largest reconstruction effort since the Marshall Plan, the United States government has spent $53 billion for relief and reconstruction in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, building tens of thousands of hospitals, water treatment plants, electricity substations, schools and bridges.
The projects run the gamut — from a cutting-edge, $270 million water treatment plant in Nasiriya that works at a fraction of its intended capacity because it is too sophisticated for Iraqi workers to operate, to a farmers’ market that farmers cannot decide how to share, to a large American hospital closed immediately after it was handed over to Iraq because the government was unable to supply it with equipment, a medical staff or electricity.
The concern about the sustainability of the projects comes as Iraq is preparing for pivotal national elections in January and as rebuilding has emerged as a political imperative in Iraq, eclipsing security in some parts of the country as the main anxiety of an electorate frustrated with the lack of social, economic and political progress. American forces are scheduled to begin withdrawing in large numbers next year.
In hundreds of cases during the past two years, the Iraqi government has refused or delayed the transfer of American-built projects because it cannot staff or maintain them, Iraqi and American government officials say.
Other facilities, including hospitals, schools and prisons built with American funds, have remained empty long after they were completed because there were not enough Iraqis trained to operate them.