Three years after U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein's government and joined a cheering crowd to pull down a large statue of the deposed dictator, ABC News' reporters in Iraq respond to your questions. Today's answers are from Baghdad Bureau Chief Clark Bentson.
Jo from Kenner, La., asks: What has happened to the museum in Baghdad? Is it protected now? Is it opened?
Answer: The National Museum remains closed to the public. The museum was badly damaged by looters. The staff told us that they need funds to rebuild the museum. The good news is that some of the stolen treasures have been recovered. There are a number of non-governmental organizations that are helping with this. ABC News' NIGHTLINE produced a story last week about an American military member who also has taken up this cause to track down and return stolen Iraqi art.
Sean Strauss from Juneau, Alaska: How does the current Iraqi reconstruction expectations compare to what was expected to be reconstructed in July 2003? How much money did we expect to sink into it, and how much have we actually spent? (This way, we can see what Iraqis are actually getting for our money …)
Answer: I could go and pull all the statistics and numbers from my files, but those would go in and out of most people's heads as fast as I spoke them.
The simple reporting has been that U.S. authorities here in Iraq, whether it be the temporary administrative authority or military, have repeatedly gone back and asked for more and more cash.
There have been repeated stories about misspent money, missing money, illegal contracts, and widespread waste and fraud. Reports show that contractors, Iraqi officials, and private security firms are all suspected of misappropriating funds in some way.
The inability to stop the violence and get a grip on the security situation in most of the country has meant large portions of the money earmarked for rebuilding has been diverted to safety measures.
Efforts are being made to bring Iraq up to the standards it had before the war in some places, and to deal with the years of neglect under the Saddam regime in others. But many reporters who've spent time on the ground here will tell you not enough has been done yet to create a stable functioning society. American politicians and the American public will have to consider the hundreds of billions of dollars spent already. One of the issues that we will continue to report on in the States is that debate, but from our reporting here it is clear that the funds haven't made the difference that many would have expected.
Jeff from Royal Oak, Mich., asks: What is the status of Iraq's oil production? What keeps them from producing oil to contribute to the Iraqi economy and help with the cost of the U.S. involvement?
Answer: From the Iraq Oil Ministry press office we have been told that the state oil company is producing between 1.9 million to 2.1 million barrels of oil a day. Their goal is to achieve between 5 million and 6 million a day by 2010, but the security situation has been difficult. Last year, there were 168 reported attacks against the oil facilities, costing the Iraqis $6.2 billion in lost revenue.
The refinery capacity is currently running at 16 million barrels a day, but officials hope that will increase to 16 million per day by summer.
Elizabeth from North Huntingdon, Pa., asks: How many soldiers have died in Iraq since we went there in the first place?