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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part III

Toward the Objective: Building a New Iraq

Chapter 9
The US Army and the Reconstruction of Iraq

A Success in Al Anbar: Rebuilding the State Company for Phosphate Plant

Much of the US Army’s reconstruction effort focused on small projects that could be funded by CERP and promised to have a direct benefit on local populations. As noted earlier, the larger projects that addressed the national infrastructure, such as the electrical grid, remained the responsibility of the US Army Corps of Engineers and the contractors working for the Corps. In a number of cases, however, the Army’s maneuver units became involved in larger projects that had beneficial results at the national, provincial, and local levels.

One excellent example of this type of project was the renovation of the State Company for Phosphate (SCP), Iraq’s largest industrial chemical fertilizer plant, located in the city of Al Qaim, in Al Anbar province. The Belgian firm Syberta had designed the plant in 1977 and its construction was completed in 1982.79 A five-stage processing plant that manufactured high-quality fertilizer, SCP employed 2,000 Iraqis at its peak and produced enough fertilizer to satisfy Iraqi consumers and provide exports to neighboring countries. When US Soldiers from the 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) arrived in the province in the spring of 2003, the plant was rundown, employed only 50 people, and was not producing any fertilizer.80 UN sanctions during the 1990s had led to the shutting down of most of the plant’s production lines and cannibalization of its equipment.81 To make the situation worse, the plant required 40 megawatts of electricity to restart and 20 megawatts to sustain production, but was receiving only 10 megawatts of electricity when Coalition forces entered Iraq.82 The company had four turbine generators capable of producing 7.5 megawatts of power each, but only one of them was working by mid-2003.

Early assessments by the CA team attached to the 3d ACR noted that returning the SCP plant to production promised to employ thousands of Iraqis while producing a key resource for a rehabilitated Iraqi economy. Initial efforts by the CA and 3d ACR Soldiers in the fall of 2003 used $50,000 in CERP funds to restore the power supply and market the inventory of fertilizer SCP had as inventory, a decision that generated approximately $5 million in capital.83 These first steps allowed the SCP to hire 1,000 workers and produce up to 700 metric tons of fertilizer per day.84 As fall progressed, the CA officers became more ambitious, connecting experts from the 82d ABN, the 432d and 490th CA Battalions, and members of TF RIO with Iraqi stakeholders from the Ministries of Industry and Minerals, Transportation, Agriculture, and Oil to expand the renovation and increase production.

Restoring the Lives of the Marsh Arabs

After a rebellion by the Shia Marsh Arabs at the end of the Gulf War in 1991, the Saddam regime largely drained and thus destroyed the Mesopotamian Marshlands. Located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the 8,000 square mile marsh area, roughly twice the size of the Florida Everglades, was once among the world’s oldest wetlands. The marshes were renowned for their biodiversity, full of a wide variety of birds, fish, and plant species. Saddam’s wrath displaced 150,000 Marsh Arabs and by 1999 the marshlands were reduced to 7 percent of their original state. This meant the catastrophic loss of wildlife as well as the destruction of a natural filter system for those people living in southern Iraq. In November 2003, the Army Corps of Engineers, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources developed a water management system that aided efforts to reconstruct the water flow system and restore the marshlands. A 5-year program began to restore the marshlands to 75 percent of pre-1991 levels.

Nani Gould, “Army Engineers Helping Restore Iraqi Wetlands,”
Army News Service, 4 August 2004.
SSG James Sherrill, “Work Continues to Restore Iraqi Marshlands,”
Defend America, 7 June 2006.

Eventually, leaders in the 3d ACR and the 82d ABN made possible the purchase of four new electric generators and helped retrofit the plant’s natural gas conversion burners. Other key machinery received much needed maintenance and repair parts. To get the fertilizer to markets, American Soldiers worked with Iraqis to repair trucks that served the plant, restore rail lines, and plan the use of railcars to ship the product.85 Perhaps most important was the fact that by February 2004 the project employed 3,000 Iraqi workers, managers, and administrators.86 Reestablishing a labor force of this size and renovating a major production facility in the midst of a region beset by insurgent violence, on the other hand, created new concerns. To safeguard the investment in the plant, the CA team involved in the SCP project coordinated for the establishment of a police academy on the complex to provide security for the facility. Eventually, Coalition forces used the academy to train 322 security officers and first responders to support the SCP.87 As the SCP project began to bear fruit, the Coalition and Iraqi authorities started to look for ways to make it more successful. Soon after the plant began producing fertilizer, the CPA and the Iraqi Ministry of Industry and Minerals committed an additional $5 million to continue the repairs.88 After further success in marketing, sales, repairs, and production, USAID, the UN, and the World Bank together committed an additional $27 million in February 2004 for continued rehabilitation of the entire complex.89 In addition to the plant’s contribution of fertilizer and other products to the Iraqi economy, the economic effects of the SCP project had a direct impact on Iraqi quality of life. One summary estimated that the rebuilding of the SCP created 45,000 jobs in a variety of sectors, including trucking, distribution, agriculture, mining, and other related industries.90

The Coalition’s focused effort on SCP serves as an excellent illustration of how US Army units, working with local Iraqis, the CPA, and the fledgling Iraqi Government integrated reconstruction operations into the full spectrum campaign. In scale and scope, the project was beyond the doctrinal capability of the CA units assigned to the region. Moreover, none of the maneuver units that operated in the province had any preparation or training for mounting a project of any size, much less one as large as this one. Nevertheless, the CA team initially on the ground recognized that SCP could have far-reaching benefits. Perhaps more importantly, the commanders of the tactical units that operated in the region—the 3d ACR and the 82d ABN—understood the critical role of projects such as the SCP in achieving their larger campaign objectives in Al Anbar province and made the necessary investments in personnel, money, and time to help reach their potential.

Chapter 9. The US Army and the Reconstruction of Iraq

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