No matter how you may feel about the war in Iraq, you probably wouldn't dispute the notion that the country needs to be rebuilt by someone, somehow. So far, billions of dollars have been spent on the endeavor, with decidedly mixed results. That's why IEEE Spectrum's executive editor, Glenn Zorpette, traveled to Iraq last autumn to see and write about the technical and social issues involved in restoring two key components of Iraq's infrastructure--its electrical and communications systems.
A recent survey of Iraqis revealed that they consider "inadequate electricity" to be the No. 1 problem that demands a governmental solution. But in the first of his two articles on reconstruction, which focuses on the electrical sector, Zorpette explores the many reasons it's been impossible to keep up with Iraq's surging demand for power, despite enormous expenditures.
Next month, Zorpette reports on the rebuilding of Iraq's telecommunications system, in which the experience has been slightly more encouraging. There are now more than 4 million wireless and wire-line telephone subscribers in Iraq--five times as many as there were before the war. Why is the wireless phone system starting to flourish while power is not? As with everything in Iraq, the reasons are many and complicated. But the central factor behind the rise of the telecom networks has been the establishment of private wireless networks in the country. In the power sector, privatization hasn't been used at all.
One final note--the dedication and enthusiasm of the engineers Zorpette met while in Iraq was striking. Working under difficult and often dangerous conditions, they are struggling to put things back together despite the confusion and violence that surround them. A dozen, perhaps two or three dozen, engineers have been killed over the past three years (no one has an exact tally). Even more have been kidnapped. The engineers who carry on despite the danger deserve credit for risking their lives to do an important job that few people would even consider doing.