Monday, December 08, 2003

The schools! We weren't talking about the schools! Every night on the news -- casualties, casualties, casualties! Nothing about the schools!

Georgia Democrat Jim Marshall ... and a bipartisan group of six other representatives just returned from Iraq. They charged that reporters have developed an overall negative tone and a "police blotter" mind-set, stressing attacks and little else. Ranking member Ike Skelton, D.-Mo., said he was impressed with the flexibility and innovation of the American military, including 3,100 projects in northern Iraq, from soccer fields to schools ...

--syndicated columnist John Leo, 9/30/03

Six months ago, nearly all of Iraq's schools were closed, and many primary schools lacked electrical wiring and plumbing and windows. Today, all 22 universities and 43 technical institutes and colleges are open, as are nearly all primary and secondary schools in the country. Earlier this year we said we would rehabilitate 1,000 schools by the time school started. This month, just days before the first day of class, our coalition and our Iraqi partners had refurbished over 1,500 schools.

--President's radio address, 10/18/03


On its corporate Web site, under a page titled "A Fresh Start for Iraqi School Children," Bechtel Group showcases sparkling new classrooms filled with happy, young Iraqi students.

But the reality is far different, according to Army investigators.

"In almost every case, the paint jobs were done in a hurry, causing more damage to the appearance of the school than in terms of providing a finish that will protect the structure," a recent Army investigation into Bechtel's work found. "In one case, the paint job actually damaged critical lab equipment, making it unusable."...

During repairs, "reports started coming in about poor quality," said 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion Maj. Linda Scharf, who was responsible for the schools in question, and who started fielding calls from concerned teachers and headmasters.

"So I asked one of my teams to go verify the rumors," Scharf said. "They took their digital camera, and the reality turned out to be worse than the rumors."

What they found: The subcontractors Bechtel hired left paint everywhere - on the floors, on desks, all over windows. The classrooms were filthy, the school's desks and chairs were thrown out into the playground and left, broken. Windows were left damaged, and bathrooms that were reportedly fixed were left in broken, unsanitary condition.

"Would you allow your child to use that bathroom? I wouldn't," Scharf said, pointing to a photograph of a stained, broken hole in a dirty, tiled stall.

..."Because it is an American company, they didn't allow anyone to control them," [Iraqi Education Ministry city planner Israa Mohammed] said....

--Scripps Howard News Service

(Scripps Howard story via Atrios.)

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