Iraq Reconstruction Efforts Moving Forward, Army Engineer Says
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
James Crum, director of the Project and Contracting Office in Washington, estimated that work is about two-thirds complete on 3,000 projects "the Iraqis identified as being a critical need."
Crum's office here is the rear-support office for the primary team in Baghdad that provides program management and construction oversight for work being done throughout Iraq.
The PCO's charter is to steward roughly $18.44 billion in funds President Bush approved in 2003 for the Iraqi Relief and Reconstruction Fund. The three-year program is responsible for projects throughout Iraq's 18 provinces in an area covering 166,000 square miles, Crum said in an interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service.
The program is meant to give the Iraqis a foundation for rebuilding infrastructure in seven critical areas: oil, water, health and education, security, transportation, communication, and facilities.
Crum said the program should provide a "jumpstart" and offer "a policy crystal ball" for Iraqi needs. "Hopefully we will be ... a foundation for them to build on in the future," Crum said. "They need to continue the momentum that's been started."
Now in its second year, the program is spending about $1 billion every 45 days.
A main goal is to employ as many Iraqis as possible and to hire Iraqi firms for contract work when possible. Crum explained officials hope to build capacity within the Iraqi workers so they can take the projects over in the future. On any given day 40,000 to 45,000 Iraqis are employed on PCO projects throughout Iraq, he said.
"We're building capacity development along the way so we don't just have a hard cut and say, 'We're done, goodbye,'" he said. "Instead, we bring them along with us and coach them and train them and have follow-up capability so they can take over and operate (the facilities) in the future."
Security concerns and the insurgency remain the most difficult challenges to rebuilding Iraq, Crum said. Army officials keep close tabs on intelligence pertaining to the security situation to decide where work can be done safely, he said.
"It's a flexible ebb and flow type of program, where when the threat's reduced we surge in that area, (and) when the threat's high, we try and stand back," Crum said. "That minimizes the impact and helps save lives, and it helps keep the work flowing."
Improving security-related infrastructure is a main priority for projects. "Security is like this umbrella over everything we do," Crum said. "If we could help the Iraqis and their security forces and the facilities to house and train their security forces, if we can get that stabilized early, ... that has an immediate stabilizing effect.
"Stabilizing that security force with the Iraqis' capability helps the rest of the project hopefully come to fruition," he added.
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