Initial Successes in Iraq Schools Reconstruction

ByABC News
April 6, 2005, 11:16 AM

BAGHDAD, April 9, 2005 — -- Amid the danger for U.S. troops and civilians in Iraq there's also plenty of hope: The American mission includes reconstruction projects that are revitalizing parts of Iraqi society, especially the schools.

Iraqi schoolchildren are eager to learn, and many people say the country's school system is one of the bright spots in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion two years ago.

One of the success stories is the Fine Arts Institute for Girls in Baghdad. After a $60,000 renovation, students are flourishing in their new environment.

The school's headmistress, Karima Hassan Ahmad, says with fresh paint, new supplies and a place to display their artwork, they're expressing themselves like never before.

"We feel we are more, we have a freedom now," she said, "and we need this freedom to do something to our society."

A number of parents in Iraq were encouraged by January's elections, and more are sending their children to school these days. As a result, the need to get schools and classrooms up to par is now greater than ever.

So far, one unit -- the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division -- is helping. The soldiers have spent $5 million of American taxpayer money to rebuild nearly 50 schools, including the art institute.

But there is still much to do. Most of Iraq's schools are still rundown and out of date. According to the Ministry of Education, 5,000 additional schools are needed, and repairs are required at 80 percent of existing ones.

"In any case, it should take at least, I think, five years," said Isam al-Saffar, the statistics director for the Ministry of Education.

It may give many of Iraq's 6 million students a hard lesson in bureaucracy and patience.

ABC News' Keith Garvin in Baghdad originally reported this story for "World News Tonight" on March 27, 2005.