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US in Iraq: What's been left behind

After seven years of war, Iraqis are freer but feel embittered by the loss of life and halting progress in turning on the lights.

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Iraqi workers struggle to keep up with electricity demand at the Doura power station in southeast Baghdad. Despite huge US investment, the power goes out for hours each day.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images

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In a palm grove village near Fallujah, a crude shell of a building stands empty. It is a school unfinished. Poorly mixed concrete has chipped away from the ceiling and crumbled along some support beams. The American military paid for the project but stopped it because of substandard work by an Iraqi contractor. Now the United States is looking for a new builder.

But wrapped up in these barren brick walls are the dreams of an Iraqi headmaster for his students, who are now crammed, four shifts a day, into another school. Until recently, any public embrace of the American presence in this part of western Iraq, including association with hundreds of US-funded rebuilding projects, brought the risk of being killed.

So when a colonel from the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) rolled up for an inspection at the half-built school, 30 miles west of Baghdad, it was no small thing for the would-be headmaster to approach him. "I'm really concerned about this project," said Bassim, reaching out his hand atop a debris-cluttered stairwell. "When you arrived, I was so happy to see you."

He had heard rumors that the project was being handed to the Iraqi government. He had visited another 12-classroom school the Americans completed in Fallujah and wanted the same high-quality construction. Col. Jon Christensen took off his sunglasses and one combat glove, shook the headmaster's hand, and said: "We are of the same mind – we are committed to getting this done. We'll come and have tea when it's done."

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