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Quick school fixes won few Iraqi hearts

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Thanoon Hussein, an engineer at the Education Ministry who checked the work at Zam Zam, says no documents were filed with the ministry on the school by Bechtel or its subcontractor, Al-Assem. He says the average amount Bechtel spent per school was $40,000. "I'd be amazed if $10,000 was spent at Zam Zam."

"We're grateful that the US and Bechtel tried to help us,'' says Nazar Mikhael, the ministry's chief engineer. "But they didn't coordinate with us." Mr. Mikhael says about half of the schools worked on by Bechtel suffer from shoddy work.

"The contracting process was scandalous to say the least - some of these things are subcontracted six times,'' says Isam al-Khafaji, a former Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) reconstruction adviser who runs Iraq Revenue Watch, a nonprofit that tracks spending here.

In a press release, Bechtel says that of 52 formal complaints, only 27 schools have required additional work, 2 percent of the schools it renovated. The company says complaints it didn't consult with Iraqis are unfair: the relevant Iraqi institutions were "not yet operational because their facilities had been looted and their personnel dispersed by the conflict" when it started work last year.

Whatever the extent of the problems with the school renovation program, they illustrate one of the fundamental philosophical dilemmas to confront US administrators here. Spending money fast tends to breed waste. Going slow is safer, but progress is less apparent.

"There was a great plan for the war but they failed to plan for the peace,'' says Sean O'Sullivan, who runs Jumpstart, a nongovernmental organization that employs about 3,000 Iraqis to demolish war-damaged government buildings and build public housing. He says the US should have focused on short-term projects to get lots of Iraqis back to work and make identifiable progress.

Some senior CPA officials agree that money wasn't lined up fast enough to show the value of liberation. "Would there have been less violence if we had been able to get money spent and made progress more quickly? Probably,'' says a Baghdad-based Army civil affairs officer. "There was a window of opportunity to win Iraqis over that we didn't exploit."

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