Despite $2 billion spent, residents say Baghdad is crumbling. Is this winning hearts and minds? Is this progress?
Talib Abu Younes put his lips to a glass of tap water recently and watched worms swimming in the bottom.
Electricity flickers on and off for two hours in Muthana Naim's south Baghdad home then shuts off for four in boiling July heat that shoots above 120 degrees.
Fadhel Hussein boils buckets of sewage-contaminated water from the Tigris River to wash the family's clothes.
The capital is crumbling around angry Baghdadis. Narrow concrete sewage pipes decay underground and water pipes leak out more than half the drinking water before it ever reaches a home, according to the U.S. military.
Over 18 months, American officials spent almost $2 billion to revive the capital ravaged by war and neglect, according to Army Gen. William G. Webster, who heads the 30,000 U.S. and foreign troops and 15,000 Iraqi soldiers known collectively as Task Force Baghdad. But the money goes for long-term projects that yield few visible results and for security to protect the construction sites from sabotage.
As a result, Iraqis have seen scant evidence of improvement in their homes, streets or neighborhoods. They blame American and Iraqi government corruption.
"We thank God that the air we breathe is not in the hands of the government. Otherwise they would have cut it off for a few hours each day," said Nadeem Haki, 39, an electric-goods shop owner in the upscale Karrada district in the east of the capital.
Of the major completed projects in Baghdad, more than $38 million went to sewage projects, $375,000 to a water main and $101.2 million to electricity generation and transmission.
Others are in the works. More than $792 million is being invested in water, sewage and electricity projects across the capital, according to U.S. military documents.
The progress is slow and the rewards incremental. Parts of the city - such as the impoverished Shiite Muslim neighborhood Sadr City, once flooded with green rivers of sewage - now have functioning sewer systems.
"The things that go below the ground and provide enough electricity are incredibly expensive, especially when you have to pay for security for that local job site," Webster said.
As renovations are made, insurgent attacks often undermine the work, leaving the city's residents frustrated that there are days they can't flush their toilets. Over three weeks, three main water lines were attacked, leaving swaths of the city without water for days.
Power generation in the city has increased by about 232 megawatts but the demand has doubled, so the greater supply hasn't resulted in many more hours of service. Three more electricity projects are expected to be complete by the end of the year, including the Dora Power Plant, a $101.5 million project that will supply 428 more megawatts to Iraqi homes, according to U.S. military documents.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars also have been spent to repair and install feeder lines to make sure all parts of the city receive electricity.
A public campaign began in June to build confidence in the Ministry of Electricity. On billboards, TV commercials and radio announcements reminiscent of American-produced public service announcements, messages read:
"Electricity is a blessing, help us protect it,"
"The demand for electricity is growing faster than we can supply it,"
"We ask for your support and understanding."
But understanding wanes when the smell of sewage fills every other block, drinking water is often contaminated and Iraqis resort to sleeping on their roofs to take a break from the sauna-like heat inside their homes, waking up covered in dust.
Electricity production is up to 16 hours a day in Iraqi homes according to U.S. military documents, but most Iraqis say they get eight hours of power a day on average, sometimes as many as 12. In poor areas such as New Baghdad, in the east of the capital, people go days without power, they said.
With about $2 billion already invested, Baghdad should be sparkling, said its mayor, Alaa Mahmoud al Timimi. He hasn't been consulted on American projects, besides signatures for completed developments, and has threatened to resign if he doesn't get a larger budget to solve his city's problems. The $85 million he was allocated can't keep up with the city of 6.5 million, he said.
He's already playing catch-up. Over 12 years the city was allocated about $3 per person per year, he said.
"Baghdad is an ignored city," said Timimi, who's a civil engineer. "The people, they blame me. I need money to rebuild the capacity of water (supply) and ... (for) sewage, garbage collection, power."
Electricity lines are tangled above the streets like strands of spaghetti, supply machinery dates to 1958 and fuse boxes have been ripped from the walls in electricity stations.
"It's too slow. If I had $2 billion I would have done three to five times more," Timimi said. "The Americans told me this is our money and we will spend it towards our plans. They do it their way."
But rebuilding Baghdad can't be done in a day or even two years, apparently. Oil refineries, electricity plants and water plants weren't maintained under Saddam Hussein, and unforeseen expenses often hinder projects.
Sometimes the simple installation of an air conditioner at a school reveals that not enough electricity is being generated to make it work, said Lt. Col. William Duddleston, a spokesman for Task Force Baghdad's Government Support Team.
"People in Baghdad don't understand, because many of them had 24 hours of electricity while people in Basra had five," he said, referring to Iraq's southern port city. Electric power is now distributed more evenly around the country, so Baghdad has suffered.
The capital was ruled with both favoritism and neglect under the past regime, Webster said recently: Those in Saddam's good graces had round-the-clock electricity while others had none.
Lt. Col. Vincent Quarles, the commander of the 4-3 Brigade Troops Battalion, oversees neighborhood reconstruction projects in about one-quarter of Baghdad. He looks at sites in the Karrada district. Some are almost done: Pipes have been renovated, holding tanks for purified water sealed and small water-purification pumps installed.
But it's sometimes a two-steps-forward, one-step-back process. At one sewage plant in east Baghdad, they'd almost finished renovations when a decaying pipe collapsed and the ground caved in. Now the work will begin again.
"It's hard to see all the progress that's been made, but things are getting better," Quarles said.
Knight Ridder special correspondent Mohammed al Awsy contributed to this report.
Welcome to what used to be Baghdad.