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Iraqi, U.S. Engineers Join Forces to Rebuild Country

By Mitch Frazier
Special to American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 21, 2004 – Decades of dictator rule and sanctions have left a bruise on the improving Iraq, a country of 25 million still in its infancy of freedom.

An oppressive regime that feared an educated public and sanctions imposed by international organizations cloaked the country from modern practices and improvements in technology and business.

A new initiative between the top construction management agency here and some of the country's best engineers is aimed at not only removing the veil of isolation but also building the country's schools, power plants and the infrastructure it so desperately needs.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, an agency charged with overseeing the majority of the reconstruction effort here, soon will begin integrating its first class of engineers from the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works into its nationwide team. The first group of 16 is slated to begin work with the Corps before the end of the year, and more than 65 Iraqi engineers are expected to participate next year.

The program couples engineers from the ministry with engineers from the Corps at project sites across the country, allowing top Iraqi engineers to work alongside one of the Corps' project managers or quality assurance representatives at the project sites.

"There is a real need to have the ministries involved in construction to ensure what we are building is what Iraq needs for the future," said Derrick Dunlap, a 42-year-old project manager with the Corps in Baghdad. "Since we manage most of the projects here, it is a natural fit."

The Corps, which manages nearly 700 active reconstruction sites across the country, soon will harness the language skills of the Iraqi engineers as the Iraqi engineers gain new information and awareness of technology and new practices working alongside the American engineers.

"(The Iraqi engineers) have been excluded for more than 35 years from knowledge and technology," said Zana Rawandoozi, director general of human resources, Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works. "The engineers here are very thirsty for training, especially training abroad. Sometimes I joke with them that I need a Titanic to take them all abroad to learn. Since I don't have one this is their chance to learn."

Educating the local work force and building capacity for the new Iraq has been one of the cornerstones of the U.S.-led reconstruction effort. Millions of dollars in subcontracts have been awarded to Iraq-based firms for school construction, electricity plant rehabilitation and a host of infrastructure projects.

It's a process that employed more than 83,000 Iraqi laborers last week, and despite the security challenges present here, is expected to employ more as 1,800 projects are planned for start before year's end.

Concerns by Iraqi engineers thwarted interest in the partnership program this summer when many worried of being killed for working with what was seen as an American reconstruction effort. "They were scared -- scared of being killed for working with the Americans, and scared of the unknown," Rawandoozi said. "So I held a meeting with some of our engineers and explained to them that the Americans were here to help us.

"I told them that these projects are serving Iraq, and most importantly, the Iraqi people working at these locations in the field are serving their country," she said.

While patriotism pulled many into the program and prompted 16 to begin processing, the 300,000 dinar monthly salary paid by the Ministry sealed the deal. The monthly salary is equivalent to $250. "This is for their country," she said. "They are not serving the Americans, they are serving their country. The Americans have the knowledge and the information our engineers need. This is about developing our capacity of people."

The partnership effort between the U.S. and Iraqi agencies marks yet another chapter in the life of Rawandoozi, a 62-year-old grandmother who was persecuted under the former regime for similar ideas of global learning and idea sharing. A management consultant in the Ministry of Planning under the former regime, she was exiled to southern Iraq for six months in 1979 for her failure to join the Baath Party and for her ideas of globalization.

"They put me in a castle alone, and at night I would hear terrible things," she said. "I would hear fighting, and when I would see the director in the morning, he would say I was just dreaming and to forget about it."

After her release, she sent her daughter to live in France with relatives and began applying for jobs with the Iraqi government. After months of bribes and pleas, she was allowed to return to government service at a library. For the next year and a half, the woman who was cast into isolation for fear of spreading knowledge was left to manage a facility filled with it.

"I wasn't back in my old office, but I was back to work," she said. "I had very little to do at the library, so I read a lot and improved my knowledge. I think I wrote five reports while I was there." She soon worked her way from the library to the Ministry of Planning, where she remained until the last year.

Originally from the Kurdish sect of Iraq, she has earned bachelor's degrees in English and business administration from Baghdad University and a master's degree from Tokyo. Her most recent education from Syria in Total Quality Management in 2000 earned her constant supervision by Iraqi Intelligence Service operatives prior to the fall of the former regime.

"They saw my education as someone who was spreading thoughts of globalization and free distribution of ideas," she said. "That was completely counter to what Saddam wanted. "I was called to meet with them two weeks before the Americans liberated Iraq. Thankfully, I didn't have to make my appointment."

Soon after the war, she was appointed as the first director general of human resources for the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works, and now spearheads the management effort of more than 42,000 ministry employees across the country.

"Being a mother of two and a grandmother of three, I look at these engineers and I want to inspire them to use their talents and develop them to their highest potential," she said. "This partnership is the perfect opportunity to do just that."

The partnership also avoids a situation where the Corps is trying to recruit the same high-caliber, English-speaking local engineers that the ministry is trying to retain and develop, she said.

"The Iraqi engineers are the catalyst of the reconstruction effort," Dunlap said. "We will not be here forever. We are merely here to help them get off on the right foot and create a successful start to the reconstruction effort."

(Mitch Frazier is assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region Division.)

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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region Division


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