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Gripes greet Rice deputy in Fallujah

Reconstruction slow, Iraqis say

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- The State Department's number two official prodded local leaders in Fallujah yesterday to describe the city's most urgent needs.

They gave him an earful of complaints.

Robert Zoellick, the most senior official in the Bush administration to venture into the former insurgent stronghold since Marines captured it last fall, sought to assess the political landscape and zero in on reconstruction priorities.

His visit took place as the State Department sharpens its diplomatic campaign to help the fledgling democracy rebuild its infrastructure and tattered economy. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made Iraqi reconstruction a priority. But Fallujah's civic leaders had a message for the United States: Progress is far too slow, and more money is needed.

''We ask of you, please, that you get involved in the situation of the Fallujah people," Mohamed Jassam, the interim City Council's vice chairman, pleaded during a meeting with Zoellick. ''You guys did this with your own blood, risked your life, for this situation."

Zoellick spent an hour with interim leaders of Fallujah's City Council at a military compound in the heart of the city. He wore a business suit with a flak jacket beneath it.

Council members rattled off a slew of complaints about the aftermath of combat in Fallujah.

They told of unsafe drinking water, an inadequate sewer system, little food aside from rationed goods, difficulties in setting up open-air markets, and delays in reimbursements for owners of destroyed homes. They fretted about few available jobs, clashes between residents and troops, and the hassles of military checkpoints at city gateways.

After listening intently, Zoellick sought to empower the City Council to lead efforts to reconstruct Fallujah even as the United States and the new Iraqi government contribute to the effort.

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