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American Forces Press Service

Construction Projects in Iraq Have Security Payoff, Official Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 19, 2005 - There have been security payoffs due to the reconstruction money being spent in Iraq, U.S. reconstruction officials said here today.

Sadr City is a case in point, said Ambassador Bill Taylor, director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office. Sadr City was a hotbed of support for militias, and the 1st Armored Division and the 1st Cavalry Division fought battles against Muqtada al Sadr's militia in the street of the area.

But following the military action, U.S. Army and U.S. government agencies moved in with reconstruction money. They funded projects that hooked up houses to the electrical grid. They funded projects that got clean water to the homes of Iraqis who never had it before. They hooked up sewers so raw sewage didn't run down the middle of the street. "I took a drive through Sadr City last month," Taylor said. "It was a rough area, but now when one drives through . one sees kids in the street waving, and giving thumbs up."

Women have benefited from a center built for them near the town hall. And local Iraqis are working on these projects. "Take a look at the security situation in Sadr City over the past months, and it has been much better," Taylor said. "People who don't have sewage in their streets, and when they turn on the switches their lights go on, they are more inclined to go about the business of living rather than picking up a weapon."

Taylor said he doesn't want to overstate the effectiveness of this progress, and that militants may still whip up the people, but now they have hope for a more normal life.

Charles Hess, director of the Iraq Project and Contracting Office, said Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq recognizes the importance of funding these projects. "He said it is a counterinsurgency campaign, and all elements of national power must work synergistically to defeat the insurgents," Hess said.

The reconstruction gives people work so they are not candidates for the insurgents' recruiters. "The military element of power will do its part in this," Hess said. "But this (war against the insurgents) has got to be won on the political and economic side."

With Iraq's national assembly election approaching Jan. 30, the project offices and the U.S. Agency for International Development are working to fund smaller projects with more immediate payoffs, such as the Sadr City rehabilitation.

There are now 1,578 new construction projects under way, an increase of almost 400 since December. Security considerations during the insurgency have increased the cost and time for the projects, but they are making progress, officials said.

The projects are aimed at providing community services, Hess said. These include improvements to water supplies -- pumping stations and water lift stations. Officials also looked at electrical projects in terms of transmission and distribution systems. Hess's office has funded village road projects as well. "Many of these villages have never had paved roads," he said. "We're providing several hundred kilometers of paved roads for the communities."

The "post-battle" cities of Fallujah, Najaf, Samarra and Sdar City have benefited the most, but the United States has projects in all 18 provinces of the country, said Chis Milligan, the U.S. Agency for International Development director in Iraq.

And the projects are taking a page from USAID's book. "In many of our programs, (the Iraqis are) required to contribute up to 20 percent of the value of the program in either sweat-equity labor or the land," Milligan said. "It gives them a stake in something. Before, under Saddam Hussein's regime, they didn't have a stake in anything. They had no interest. That's probably why we had the looting. Now they do have that stake, and there is an interest in protecting the projects as they come on line."

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