Infrastructure Projects Changing Minds in East Baghdad
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE LOYALTY, Iraq, Dec. 16, 2005 Nothing makes Army Lt. Col. Jamie Gayton more angry than someone saying coalition projects in East Baghdad have no effect.
"We are making a difference every day in the lives of average Iraqis," said Gayton, the commander of 2-3 Brigade Troops Battalion and responsible for coalition projects in East Baghdad.
Sadr City is a part of the area of operations for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, a unit of the 3rd Infantry Division. Hundreds of projects in the area of 2.6 million people have changed life in the neighborhoods.
When Americans first rolled into Baghdad, Sadr City was called Saddam City. The area was a Shiia Arab stronghold, and not an area full of Saddam supporters. Raw sewage ran down the middle of the streets. The sewage contaminated the water coming into the homes. Residents, if they were lucky, got four hours a day of electricity and they hooked into the grid on their own; one block in eastern Sadr City was hooked to the grid by barbed wire.
Driving through Sadr City was an experience. Humvees were hub deep in raw sewage, and the smell was indescribable, Gayton said. The sewer system was fuill of breaks and clogs. Many houses drained into trenches that led to another trench in the middle of the street.
The 1st Cavalry Division put in place projects to remedy the situation, and then Muqtada al Sadr launched his rebellion in April 2004. Sadr City became a battleground as the so-called Mahdi Militia took arms against the coalition. The projects had to wait. Again in October 2004, fighting in Sadr City forced postponements in the projects.
In November 2004, the projects moved forward. The 3rd Infantry Division began moving into Baghdad in January and February 2005, and Gayton took over execution of the contracts.
For sewage, 15 pumping stations were totally rebuilt, and dedicated power lines went to them. "They can now run 24 hours a day," Gayton said. The lines themselves were blasted clean with high-pressure water, contractors repaired lines that had collapsed, and another project built three two-kilometer-long "force" lines. The forces lines push sewage to the main sewage disposal line.
Now there is no sewage in the streets of Sadr City. "This is a project that benefits everyone," Gayton said. "Now, if it rains, it may still back up, but the infrastructure is in place to handle the load. The completed sewer projects ran $61.4 million.
Water is another area of improvement. The coalition has completed almost $20 million worth of water projects. The projects have upgraded the main networks in the city, and local contractors are now hooking up homes to the system. "This is new, because in the past, water didn't go into the houses," Gayton said. "You walked to a community spigot."
The project places taps in each house. The homeowner can then hook up the water to an internal plumbing system.
Another project is building a large water treatment plant on the northern edge of the city and upgrading the water network to the rest of the city. Further, to tide the city over until the large water treatment plant goes online, the coalition has emplaced 27 compact water purification units. These units produce 15,000 liters of pure water a day, and the units are interspersed throughout the areas with no clean drinking water.
Electrical work continues in the city as well. The coalition has funded efforts to upgrade the network and tie homes into the electrical grid. In the past, homeowners tapped into the grid where they could. Gayton said these hook-ups resemble spaghetti, and he said he watched as one of the lines melted under a load of electricity. The coalition is providing the material for these upgrades, and the Baghdad electrical company is handling the installation. Electric projects are pegged at $139 million.
The improvements include rebuilding hospitals, building and equipping clinics, rehabilitating schools, building a fire station and building a community center for the city. "All of these have an immediate impact on the community," Gayton said. "And we can see a drop in the number of incidents since the projects have come on line." Division officials said there has not been an improvised explosive device attack in Sadr City for months.
The process also has strengthened grassroots community groups. Gayton said he works all projects in conjunction with district advisory councils. "We sit with them and go over what they really need," he said. "There is only one rule: everyone has to benefit from the project."
The neighborhoods have learned to horse-trade among themselves for projects.
But there is more to East Baghdad and Gayton's area of responsibility than Sadr City. He has projects moving forward in Rustamiyah and in Salman Pak. The coalition is funding rehabilitation or emplacement of neighborhood sewer networks.
Over the next month, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team is turning over responsibility to the 506th Brigade Combat Team. The 506th will inherit the projects and continue driving forward with them, Gayton said.