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Millions for Iraq schools unspent

Nabil al-Jurani/associated Press

A student passed by an abandoned school project, unfinished since 2006, in central Basra last month.

BAQUBAH, Iraq - Millions of dollars in international aid to build and repair Iraq’s dilapidated schools have gone unspent for years. Now, Iraq’s government risks losing the funding as the World Bank weighs whether some of it would be better used elsewhere.

The dilemma echoes across the international aid community - whether to continue financing a government with vast oil resources and a $100 billion annual budget or divert assistance to needier nations. It also reflects frustration over problems that have kept the money from being used.

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The education aid is a slice of $1.3 billion in grants and loans the World Bank and its donor nations have given Iraq since 2004. Initially, the money was intended to help rebuild the country after the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. But the bank maintained the assistance as it became clear the country desperately needed help as it faced years of violence.

World Bank officials acknowledged the Iraqi government faced tremendous hurdles in trying to carry out the projects. There was no Parliament when the first tranche of funding was provided, and the government was barely functional in the years the nation teetered on the brink in civil war. The projects have picked up since Iraq’s new government was seated in late 2010, but bureaucracy and contracting problems have stunted progress.

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