Reconstruction Slow in Central Iraq

Taxi driver Abdul Hasan al Saidi ticked off the problems as he drove through Baghdad -- the garbage isn't collected, the sewage problems are enormous, and law and order are nonexistent.

But many Iraqis we encountered in central Iraq hang on to shreds of optimism. Al Saidi said he is hopeful: he and his family plan to vote in the country's historic election.

In the parts of Iraq with tangible quality of life improvements, people are more optimistic. New water pipes and paving in the Baghdad slum known as Sadr City haven't gone unnoticed. Whatever they think of Americans, the Shiite residents of the giant city-within-a-city need all the help they can get.

But in Baghdad's Shula neighborhood, lousy plumbing equals pessimism.

"We've had overflowing sewage here for six days!" said one angry resident. "We call the local officials. They haven't fixed anything!"

One Step Forward, One Step Back

At a school in Sadr City, the children and teachers would be one step forward if the sewage were removed from the school yard. In many parts of central Iraq, that's the way things are: one step forward and one step back.

Since the U.S. invasion, the staff at Baghdad's Special Institute for Handicapped Children has had more money for physical improvements. But the building sits close to Haifa Street -- often the site of fighting between U.S. forces and Iraqi insurgents.

The students are understandably scared when they hear the sound of gunshots and low-flying helicopters. Last week, when a bomb exploded nearby, the children fled the lunchroom in a panic. While there was no damage to the building, the psychological damage to the children was immense.

It is hard for Americans to comprehend the level of violence. Central Iraq has seen the worst of it since the start of the war. We heard the same thing today that we heard during our visit last summer: "When Saddam Hussein was in power, this never would have happened."

Peter Jennings filed this report for "World News Tonight."