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U.S. Contractor Sees Growing Hostility in Iraq
Tue Jun 24, 4:04 PM ET

By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. contractor helping to rebuild Iraq's school system said on Tuesday his staff faced increased hostility on the ground and they feared becoming "soft targets" by Iraqis angry at U.S. occupation.

"There is aggressive behavior toward us. In one instance we had car windows removed and smashed by pupils after we had checked out a school," said Frank Dall of Creative Associates International a Washington-based company awarded a $62.6 million contract to help rebuild Iraq's education system.

Dall, who has extensive experience in Iraq, told Reuters several of their vehicles were stoned in recent weeks by angry Iraqis and he feared the "stones will soon turn to bullets" and contractors and aid groups could become "soft targets."

Speaking at a public briefing on education in Iraq by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Dall and others said the fluid security situation and the post-war looting and violence were the major headaches in trying to rebuild Iraq.

"It is an ad hoc security situation which is extremely dangerous ... We don't want to bring our people back in body bags," said Dall.

The U.S. military has also faced growing hostility in recent weeks, with at least 19 soldiers killed since President Bush declared major combat over on May 1.

Dall said he suspected members of toppled leader Saddam Hussein's party were regrouping with the plan of a low-intensity guerrilla war against the U.S. occupation.

"You have to empower Iraqis to feel that they own their own system again and they are in command and not just being occupied. Occupation is the name of the game," said Dall.

Private contractors are being hired by USAID to do much of the reconstruction work in Iraq, including education, water and sanitation, health and getting power up and running.

USAID deputy reconstruction advisor Dana Peterson said security was under constant discussion with contractors. "It's on a case by case basis depending on the region," she told Reuters.

Frank Method from Research Triangle International, another USAID contractor involved in education and local governance issues, said his teams always traveled in convoys.

USAID's goal is to get Iraq's children back at school by October, the beginning of the school year. Under the previous government, primary school enrollment was only about 76 percent and 35 percent of all schools had double or triple shifts.

Some 8,000 schools are in need of renovation and a further 5,000 new schools need to be built.

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