Iraq Conditions Improving, More to be Done

It was not a good day for an anniversary.

First, unidentified gunmen assassinated a Spanish diplomat, Jose Antonio Bernal, 34, after luring him out of his house. "They shot him and he fell down," said one eyewitness. "When he got up they shot him in the head."

A half-hour later, a suicide bomber shot and killed three guards and then drove his car into a police compound, blowing it up in a crowded and poor neighborhood of Baghdad today, killing himself and another six victims.

It was a violent way to mark the six months since American forces triumphantly brought down the statue of Saddam Hussein in a Baghdad square.

During a tour of the site where the statue once stood, Iraq's U.S. administrator Paul Bremer expressed sympathy for the victims while trying to put the best face on reconstruction.

New and Improved Iraq

At a news conference, he listed the coalition's accomplishments, including efforts to restore electricity.

According to the Coalition Provisional Authority, which oversees the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, life has improved in many fronts. For example:

13,000 reconstruction projects have been completed; 40,000 police have been hired and assigned; 1,500 schools have been rehabilitated; 14,000 kilometers of irrigation canals have been cleared, employing 100,000 laborers; 22 million doses of vaccine for children have been cultivated; 30 embassies have reopened.

And lastly, six months ago, there was only 300 megawatts of electrical production; now it's up to 4,518 megawatts, "exceeding the prewar average," said Bremer.

With the lights back on, authorities were able to shorten the curfew. Residents can now stay out until midnight, which is good for restaurants but also for the country's mood.

"With the lights on later, I feel safer," said one Iraqi woman. "But we want better security."

Merchants are back in business and Iraqis now enjoy better salaries subsidized by the coalition.

"I was badly paid before," said government worker Kamil Jabbar in Arabic. "Now I get $180 a month. I just bought an air conditioner!"

Not everything has improved for Iraqis. The Baghdad International Airport is still closed and most phone service is still unavailable. And the violence still continues unabated.

Iraqis are better off than six months ago, but they still look over their shoulder.

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