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Drinking water now reaching up to 70 percent of Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Drinking water is reaching 65 percent to 70 percent of Baghdad, and all 26 major sewage pumping stations are working, U.S. Army engineers helping Iraq's American-led post-Saddam government announced Saturday.

But only half the capital has electricity, and it will take one to two weeks to restore the high-power lines that bring surplus power from northern Iraq to the city, said Brig. Gen. Steve Hawkins at a news conference by the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, an agency created by the Pentagon to rebuild Iraq.

Many Iraqis have been angry that the U.S. agency has not been able to restore critical services, and there has been confusion over where they can go for information.

The agency's chief, retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, has been meeting with Iraqi notables to select Iraqis who will fill key posts in the occupation government.

U.S. troops occupying Iraq have primary responsibility for short-term reconstruction efforts. The agency under Garner, staffed with more than 100 civilian technical experts, is to supervise longer-range programs.

Hawkins, who heads Army Task Force Fajr, Arabic for dawn, in charge of water and power restoration efforts, said conditions in Baghdad are "getting better every day" with the cooperation of top Iraqi officials.

Seventy-five percent of the eastern half of Baghdad and 25 percent of the western part now have electricity, said Hawkins. All three main Baghdad generators are on line and producing power. But Baghdad's more than 5 million people need much more power than those plants can provide, especially during the hot summer. The extra power is normally brought in from dams and generators in the north on the country's main power grid.

Ten to 12 of the city's hospitals have power and water, Hawkins said. The city has about 17 major hospitals and an equal number of smaller ones.

Maj. Gen. Carl Struck, a senior engineering adviser, said he intended to keep on all critical services employees for 90 days. After that, U.S. officials would start to purge "people who worked with Saddam" from the payrolls, he said.

His comment drew a snort from an anti-Saddam Iraqi university student in the audience. "Everyone worked with Saddam. We had to. He was the only power. They can't say those people can't work."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.