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Thursday, September 23, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Bridge severed by war reopens

By The Washington Post and The Associated Press

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TIKRIT, Iraq — The Americans spared few expenses on ceremony yesterday: Balloons soared over the Tigris River, a U.S. Army band pumped out the Iraqi national anthem, and red, white and black ribbon — representing the colors of the Iraqi flag — stretched across the newly repaired Tikrit Bridge.

Tribal sheiks in traditional robes and municipal officials in dark Western suits lined up to march across to formally mark the completion of the $5.4 million, U.S.-funded project.

The bridge reopened 18 months after U.S. warplanes bombed it to cut a crucial transportation link between the cities of Tikrit and Kirkuk in northern Iraq.

The two-lane span is the third war-damaged bridge that USAID has restored and reopened.

The U.S. agency has surveyed 40 others but has no immediate plans to fix them, citing a Bush administration decision to shift some money from public works and reconstruction to security programs in an effort to deal with an unrelenting insurgency.

The pace of reconstruction has left many Iraqis and their new leaders dissatisfied; work continues, but at a pace they consider disappointing.

"We need more projects," Hamad Humood Shaqti, the governor of Tikrit, said even as he expressed pleasure at the reopening of the bridge.

"We need more bridges, more hospitals. We need sewage systems in every village and town in the city," he said.

The Bush administration asked Congress this month for permission to divert $3.5 billion from public works and other long-term rebuilding projects to security needs, including the training and equipping of additional Iraqi police.

Rebuilding the bridge, which spans the Tigris at the hometown of deposed president Saddam Hussein, was fraught with delays and tragedy.
Workers for a Turkey-based subcontractor suffered several attacks, including an ambush last month that left an engineer, a crane operator and two other employees dead.

"I'll never, ever forget the Tikrit bridge," said Umit Talu, project manager for Turkey-based 77 Construction. "Five times they tried to kill us. Believe me, this was very difficult work. But we finished the job."

The bridge project would have been complete in February, had it not been for the attacks, Talu said.

Despite the difficulties, the bridge reopened, and the governor of Tikrit pledged work and reconstruction would continue.

"We are waiting for more promising projects in the future," Shaqti said in a speech delivered from the bridge.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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