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Re-engineering Iraq

April 01, 2006

A 14-page investigative report in a recent issue of IEEE Spectrum magazine, written by the magazine’s executive editor, Glenn Zorpette, was based on a trip to Iraq in September and October. During that trip, Mr. Zorpette traveled to several construction sites, and spoke to scores of people, including Muhsin Shlash, Iraq’s Minister of Electricity, and other key Iraqi and U.S. officials, engineers, and workers.

The report is the first of its kind to be based on extensive interviews with the front-line engineers working in Iraq and risking their lives to get the country’s electrical systems up and running. The result is a unique and penetrating look into a massive effort—a component of one of the largest and most dangerous reconstruction efforts in history—that has foundered badly. The engineers who work for U.S. Government contractors in Iraq are generally prohibited from speaking to the press but were granted special permission to cooperate with Mr. Zorpette, provided they were granted anonymity.

After describing the often clashing bureaucracies attempting to rebuild Iraq, Mr. Zorpette zeroes in on the power sector, where dozens of power stations have been built that cannot be fueled. He traces the recent history of one plant, the Quds power station just north of Baghdad, as an example of what has gone wrong in the power sector. As one American engineer summed up the situation at Quds for Mr. Zorpette: “We put in a third of a billion dollars’ worth of combustion turbines that can’t be fueled.”

The article concludes with a trip in and around Sadr City, the huge Shiite ghetto in northeast Baghdad, where the coalition has spent more than a billion dollars on restoration projects. Mr. Zorpette visited power substations, some newly electrified neighborhoods, an illegal diesel generator, a couple of markets, and other sites. Mingling with ordinary Iraqis, he got unfiltered views about the reconstruction effort.

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