RealClearWorld presents a special series of original, exclusive blog posts by the boots on the ground in Iraq - Baghdad, Anbar Province and beyond. These bloggers include American Marines, soldiers, support personnel and government administrators. The posts also feature exclusive, on-location photographs of Iraqi lives as seen through the lenses of the bloggers.
These posts are provided exclusively to RealClearWorld by the U.S. Department of State. The views expressed in these posts are the bloggers' own sentiments.
Part Five: Baghdad II
Our ePRT 4 works in southern Baghdad province in a district (Qada) known as Mahmudiyah and includes the sub-districts of Yusifiyah, Lutifiyah, and Al Rasheed as well as Mahmudiyah. After 2003 and until early 2007, the area became known as the triangle of death because of the extreme violence carried out by Sunni and Shia extremists and assorted terrorists and thugs. Until last year, it was rife with kidnappings, murders, bombings, and other mayhem.
What a difference a year makes. Today, the 450,000 inhabitants of the district reside more or less peacefully together. Of course they are concerned about security and stability, but they now have time to think about making a better life for themselves and their families. Our Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team (ePRT) works with Iraqis and help them to improve governance, foster economic development, provide essential services to the population, and promote the rule of law. We are embedded with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division, the Rakkasans, on which we rely for security and other support.
Because of the greatly improved security, our team is able to operate relatively freely throughout the region, or Qada. I won’t kid you. This is still a volatile area. A few months ago, for example, a young female suicide bomber blew herself up near the town of Yousifiyah, killing an Iraqi Army captain and wounding several others. But security is vastly better. This Ramadan, in the past a time of increased insurgent activity, has been noticeably calm.
We have been taking advantage of this increased stability, and are partnering with the Iraqis in providing essential services to the population of the province.
The district will not be able to satisfy all the pent-up demand for basic services anytime soon. But it’s making progress. The government has just finished installing a 9-kilometer pipeline connecting the principal town of Mahmudiyah to a water treatment plant in Al Rasheed that will provide 25% of the district’s water. This was a joint project: the US provided the pipe, and the Iraqis laid it. On power, and water, and sanitation, we are helping the Iraqis develop long-term development plans to address shortages and advising on them on shorter-term, interim solutions, e.g., using smaller diesel- or solar-powered water treatment units. We’ve also brokered agreements with government officials and local sheiks to facilitate the cleaning and rehabilitation of canals for use in agriculture.
Yusifiyah Number 1 Pump Station on Tigris
We’re proud of a project to revive the poultry sector, a critical element of the region’s economy. This is a perfect example of the “day-to-day” projects that don’t make headlines, but make real economic progress in the country. When fully launched, this project should generate thousands of jobs. And it has brought together different tribal and religious factions in a way that only a successful business venture can. Under Saddam, Mahmudiyah district was a big poultry producer, but it was a command-economy style of production. We set about fostering a private, market-based poultry industry. With the Iraqis, we created a poultry association and gave it a jump start. We imported 90,000 eggs that hatched into chicks, rehabilitated 20 poultry houses, used high-protein feed, and sent ePRT experts to work with the farmers to raise the chickens under the right conditions.
Vaccination of day-old chicks
The results have been positive and our support has been limited to providing technical support and advice. The plan is to expand to at least 100 poultry houses and to integrate the industry with a parent farm, hatcheries, a feed mill, and a processing plant. We’re working with the association to find credit and investment and to benefit from agricultural extension services to continue its growth.
Broilers Nearly Ready for Sale
We’ve provided loans and grants to small service businesses and factories in the area and helped to form business associations to foster economic activity. We’ve supported job training programs, particularly those focused on assisting women. Several markets in the district, some of which had been closed for years, are thriving again.
Evening shoppers in the Mahmudiyah market
We’re also working to revive several medium-sized industries in the area, e.g., helping a clothing factory to win supply contracts that have allowed it to grow its work force. Even more exciting, we’ve worked with the National Metallic and Bicycle Factory (NMBC) and a U.S. Task Force to build a special wheelchair for Iraqi children under rigorous specifications. This project could eventually help up to 150,000 Iraqi kids. We’re helping with other contracts for a heavy-duty adult wheelchair (the “Rough Rider”) and skateboards.
Rough Rider Wheelchairs
This is only the beginning. There is so much more that can be done here to promote agriculture and economic activity. We are planning a business expo with the Mahmudiyah Business Council to showcase the district and attract Iraqi and foreign investors. Sure, there are plenty of frustrations and challenges, but this is an exciting time to be working with the Iraqis and watch them continue their amazing progress.
Read the Entire Series at RCW's Rebuilding Iraq Blog