The Americans spared few expenses on ceremony Wednesday: Balloons soared over the Tigris River, a U.S. Army band pumped out the Iraqi national anthem, and red, white and black ribbon -- representing the colors of the Iraqi flag -- stretched across the newly repaired Tikrit Bridge.
Tribal sheiks in traditional robes and municipal officials in dark Western suits lined up to march across the bridge to formally mark the completion of the $5.4 million, U.S.-funded project.
An Iraqi police car began slowly leading the procession toward a group of waiting Americans -- troops from the 1st Infantry Division and representatives of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its main contractor in Iraq, Bechtel. As the marchers progressed, a soldier hastily took down the red ribbon and stuffed it into his knapsack. An alert Iraqi had pointed out that it might not be the best idea for the governor of Tikrit to be seen cutting a representation of the Iraqi flag with an oversized pair of scissors.
So it went on the day that the Tikrit Bridge reopened, 18 months after U.S. warplanes bombed it in order to cut a crucial transportation link between the cities of Tikrit and Kirkuk, the oil center of northern Iraq 70 miles to the north.
The two-lane span is the third war-damaged bridge that USAID has restored and reopened. The U.S. government development agency has surveyed 40 others but has no immediate plans to fix them, citing a Bush administration decision to shift some money away from public works and reconstruction to security programs in an effort to deal with an unrelenting insurgency.
The pace of reconstruction has left many Iraqis and their new leaders dissatisfied; the work continues, but at a pace that they consider disappointing.
"We need more projects," Hamad Humood Shaqti, the governor of Tikrit, said even as he expressed pleasure at the reopening of the bridge. "We need more bridges, more hospitals. We need sewage systems in every village and town in the city."
The Bush administration asked Congress this month for permission to divert $3.5 billion from public works and other long-term rebuilding projects to security needs, including the training and equipping of additional Iraqi police. Part of the reallocated money would go toward addressing unemployment, planning elections and repairing facilities for oil production, the nation's single most important source of revenue.
At the bridge ceremony on Wednesday, James Stephenson, the USAID director in Iraq, said his agency would actually get a boost from the reallocation, which he said was not yet finalized.
Under the plan, USAID would get $755 million to spend on economic policy reform, private sector development and preparations for local and national elections scheduled for January, he said.
The proposed reallocation "is really a change to recognize the reality we find on the ground," said Stephenson, who wore a navy blue sport coat over his beige bulletproof vest. "Infrastructure is simply a means. By itself, it is nothing."
The reconstruction of the bridge, which spans the Tigris at the home town of deposed president Saddam Hussein, reflects many of the challenges of rebuilding Iraq, where harsh physical conditions and insurgent attacks can complicate even simple projects.
The bridge had suffered major damage in two places, requiring replacement of six girders, its deck, guardrails and lights. And there was another problem, said Terry Valenzano, Iraq program director for Bechtel National Inc., the San Francisco-based contractor for USAID. "We couldn't find the original plans," he said, a white hard hat perched on his head.
Work started 11 months ago and initially progressed without major disruption. Insurgents at the time were targeting U.S. troops and their Iraqi allies. They largely left U.S. reconstruction companies alone and were not targeting Iraqi laborers.
The new beams had to be cast in special molds and then trucked from Irbil in northern Iraq. Along the way, one of the trucks took a curve too fast, spilling one of the beams. It cracked. A replacement had to be made.
This spring, the river rose to flood levels, washing over one of the piers and sweeping away some scaffolding.
By then, insurgent attacks in the area had intensified. The U.S. military base next to the bridge was being hit by fire from mortars and other weapons.
About a month ago, three employees of 77 Construction, the Kirkuk-based Iraqi subcontractor on the project, were ambushed and killed on their way to the work site, said Umit Talu, project manager for the company. A fourth worker was shot while working on the bridge.
Over the weekend, Shaqti, Tikrit's governor, survived an apparent assassination attempt after his convoy came under fire, news agencies reported. On Wednesday, a U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb three miles south of Tikrit.
In spite of the difficulties, the bridge reopened, and Shaqti pledged that work and reconstruction would continue. "We are waiting for more promising projects in the future," he said in a speech delivered from the bridge.
Local leaders who attended the ceremony soundly rejected U.S. plans to divert more reconstruction money into security. They said the Americans seemed to be missing the point.
"This is a wrong idea," said Gen. Ahmed Jubouri, the Iraqi National Guard commander in Tikrit. "If we want to maintain security in this country, we have to spend more money on its infrastructure and economic sector, not take money."
Abdullah Hussein Jabara, a deputy governor, said security had deteriorated because people didn't see improvement in their lives. "When there is poverty, there are crimes," he said. "These projects provide jobs to people. This is the best step we can take toward security improvement."
As he strolled through crowd, fingering yellow prayer beads that hung from his black tribal dress, Abdul-Wahab Jubouri, the head of the Jubouri tribe in Tikrit, applauded the Americans for rebuilding the bridge, which he called "a historic event in the city."
"We suffered so much before," he said. "Before, we had to wait for hours in lines to cross the only small bridge left after this one was bombed. This is the first step in a way to prosperity."
As he spoke, he picked up one foot, then the other, to avoid standing too long in one place on the bridge's new tar, which had not quite sealed and was melting in the hot sun.
He offered a piece of advice for the Americans: "Take the money for the security companies, give it to the jobless and people will achieve security."
Samya Rahseed, chief engineer for roads and bridges in Tikrit, walked by wearing a long skirt, also picking her way carefully through the black muck. "This is not the way to pave our roads," she said, shaking her head. "We will survey this project and improve it. We will hire Iraqis. We will put them to work."
Special correspondent Omar Fekeiki contributed to this report.