Saturday, January 17, 2009

Coalition Forces, Diplomats 'Engineer' Peace in Baghdad

Coalition and Iraqi partnerships are stronger than ever, and they are taking advantage of the improved security situation to further reconstruction efforts in Baghdad, the U.S. military's top engineer officer in Baghdad province said yesterday.

Throughout the past year, nearly 400 projects and reconstruction actions valued at more than $70 million have led to "tremendous improvements" in infrastructure as well as the availability of essential services to Baghdad residents, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Talley told reporters during a news conference in Baghdad.

Rebuilding and refurbishing Iraq's infrastructure "represents a commitment from the people of the United States to help the Iraqi citizens," Talley, who also commands the Army Reserve's 926th Engineer Brigade, added.

Sanitation and sewage repairs, improved water treatment facilities, an expanded power grid, expanded health care facilities, and 39 newly built and refurbished schools are some of the projects coalition forces and Iraqi officials have tackled and are ongoing, he said.

Many of those projects also directly link to security efforts, he said.

Sanitation projects to clean up and collect garbage in the streets reduce prospects for homemade bombs being placed there, he said. Also, the nearly 400 construction projects have created employment opportunities for many who may otherwise have turned to insurgency, he added.

Talley explained that the construction projects not only help the Iraqis execute engineering projects, "but more importantly, [the projects] assist in sustaining security in Baghdad."

In Sadr City, one of Iraq's most historically dangerous neighborhoods, 195 projects have been completed or have been ongoing since May. More than $44 million in efforts have given citizens there a new source of pride in the city, prompting more of them to report militiamen and weapons caches, he said.

"Delivery of projects, services and assistance that enable hope within the citizens of this great city in turn foster greater relationships with the Iraqi security forces and the supporting coalition forces," he said. "All of these efforts are helping us engineer the peace."

Provincial reconstruction teams and U.S. forces are focusing their efforts on processes and capacity building for the Iraqis rather than immediate improvements. The downturn of violence in Iraq has allowed forces and officials to shift their focus from the counterinsurgency fight to addressing more infrastructure and development challenges, John Bass, team leader for the Baghdad PRT, said.

"We're helping them to develop analysis and data to solve their own problems and apply resources to tackle the most important ones," Bass said. "We're not trying to build or repair the sewer network for the city of Baghdad. We're helping the city of Baghdad develop the analytical tools to be able to assess their sewer networks themselves and make informed decisions based on objective data about what their most pressing priorities are.

"As we have shifted to a more bilateral relationship based on understanding and mutual respect between the United States and Iraq ... I see a very real transition of a new ability of the local government to address the needs of the local citizens," he said.
By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
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