Another serious problem was the failure to charge private consumers for electricity, which a U.S. advisor called one of the worst mistakes of the U.S.-led occupation, according to a recent report by the U.S. Institute of Peace, a congressionally funded think tank.
The virtually free power encouraged wealthy and middle-class Iraqis to go on a spending spree after the invasion, buying refrigerators, heaters and other goods.
As a result, demand for electricity surged far past supply. When the U.S. finishes its building program, Iraq will be able to produce about 5,500 megawatts on a sustained basis, about 1,000 more than the country produced under Hussein's government. But demand has soared to 9,000 megawatts during Iraq's sweltering summers and chilly winters.
Thus, while the U.S. will have technically reached its goal of restoring Iraq's power output to prewar levels, the average Iraqi will have about 10 to 12 hours of power a day, less than under Hussein. Those living in urban centers such as Baghdad, Basra and Mosul are especially affected.
Karns, of the Army Corps of Engineers, said it would be "multiple decades" before Iraqi homes had power 24 hours a day.
"In spite of all these problems, we have made a significant impact in keeping the system stable," Karns said. "They're in a much better starting position as they continue forward."
The lack of reliable electricity is one of the chief frustrations of Iraqis. Almost everyone quizzed about the pace of the reconstruction uttered the phrase "\o7maku kahrabaa\f7"-- there's no electricity.
"Right now, our issue is electricity," said Raheem Abdul Sadr, a shopkeeper who was selling brightly colored tricycles and backpacks recently in Baghdad's Sadr City. "We have no issues except electricity."
His friend shook his head and concurred: "Electricity, electricity, electricity."
Unexpectedly high costs for security and maintenance and operational problems also have plagued reconstruction.
By last fall, the Army Corps had run out of cash for several projects being funded with Iraqi oil revenue -- money spent in addition to the $4 billion in U.S. funding. They handed the unfinished plants to the Iraqis, hoping they would finish the work.
Instead, the Iraqis did nothing, their own budget hampered by the insurgency, inefficient state spending, oil production shortfalls and persistent corruption, U.S. officials said.
In January, corps officials decided to renew work on dozens of generators that had been abandoned, this time with U.S. money, in a plan called Project Phoenix.
The U.S. eventually paid Fluor-AMEC, a U.S.-British joint venture, $93 million to complete the work and add 700 megawatts of power to Iraq's grid.
The delays, however, resulted in millions of angry Iraqis having to sweat through the summer.
"We started it much too late," Thompson said.
Most of the power projects that were completed, U.S. officials said, have been poorly operated by the Iraqis, who before the invasion relied heavily on foreign contractors to run the plants.
By one U.S. estimate, Iraq would have an additional 1,000 megawatts of power if all of its 19 plants, with 142 generators, were run correctly.
To help remedy the problem, USAID sent scores of Iraqi engineers abroad for training as part of a multimillion-dollar effort to create "tiger teams" that would return and train other Iraqis.
Instead, the engineers were dispersed to different plants when they returned and provided very little training, reconstruction officials said.
"We put the tiger teams out there, but we never got anything out of them," Karns said.
There have been some successes. The larger problems of the power sector don't seem to have trickled down to the Khor Zubayr plant south of Basra, which will be the last to go online.
Chris Frabott, an Army Corps official, has spent the last several months installing two mammoth generators. If all goes as planned, they will actually use natural gas piped in from a nearby oil field.
The plant was abuzz with work one day last summer. More than 400 Iraqi workers were employed at the site, which sits alone in the middle of flat, barren desert.
When the plant goes online Thursday, it will deliver 500 megawatts of power to Iraq -- about 10% of current capacity. Frabott looked up at one of the generators and patted its side.
"It's a lot of work," he said. "A lot of money."