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In Bid to Rebuild Razed Bridge, Recovery and War Vie in Iraq

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cal04 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-05-06 09:06 PM
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In Bid to Rebuild Razed Bridge, Recovery and War Vie in Iraq
Last August, under daily attack from car bombs and mortars, the Marines took down the only bridge over the Euphrates River for miles around. Now they are trying to rebuild it. With the bridge down, marines say, insurgents and foreign fighters can no longer infiltrate as easily into this town near the Syrian border in western Anbar Province, the heavily Sunni Arab area that has formed the heart of the insurgency. But Iraqis who live on the river's northern bank grumble that they have no easy way to get to town to buy and sell goods or to see the doctor.

"The biggest complaint I hear is that we took down the bridge," said Lt. Col. Nick Marano, commander of the Marine battalion here. "We have to replace it and we will." The shifting priorities illustrate the trade-off between combat and reconstruction that the American military is still grappling with, but especially in remote regions like this one, where the Iraqi government is still almost nonexistent. The Marines' effort is also a test of the Bush administration's declaration that it will focus this year on holding and rebuilding Iraqi towns, rather than departing after military operations and allowing insurgents to return. Though the orders from Washington are to clear, hold and build, accomplishing that on the ground is proving difficult.

The centerpiece of the nationwide effort, announced by the State Department last year, was supposed to be 18 provincial reconstruction teams in cities and towns around the country. But security conditions have limited the number created to only four so far, in Hilla, Mosul, Kirkuk and Baghdad, although two more are scheduled to open in about a month. (In Washington, a senior United States government official blamed the delay in expanding the program on reluctance by the American military to take on additional duties guarding the provincial reconstruction teams and their headquarters in the field. "One can understand that, that they want to focus on their own principal duties, which are in war fighting," the official said. "So the program has had a lot of growing pains.")

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