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Village of Hope Points to Future of Iraq

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

VILLAGE OF HOPE, Iraq, Feb. 3, 2004 – Who got new homes and how they came to be was the big news Feb. 2 at this village near Mosul.

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Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz presents a certificate of occupancy to a resident of the new Village of Hope in Mosul, Iraq, Feb. 2 as Army Maj. Gen. David Patraeus, 101st Airborne Division commander, looks on. Photo by Jim Garamone
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The 101st Airborne Division initiated the project. Under it, families from all groups would work together to build homes for those needing them. Thousands of members of the former regime's army and from the Kurdish Peshmerga militias had no jobs. Many lived in government and military buildings inside Mosul the second largest city in Iraq.

Americans began the project, but Iraqis soon took the lead.

Army Lt. Col. Rich Ott is a reservist with the 926th Engineer Construction Group out of Montgomery, Ala. A construction manager in civilian life, he knew what had to be done, but was uncertain how to do it. The engineers had to merge U.S. and Iraqi building practices, learn the new process themselves and then develop a training program.

"It was a learning experience," said Chief Warrant Officer Nathan Harvel, another reservist with the unit. "We had to get through the culture thing before we could really start."

The "culture thing" was in designing the homes. The engineers had to combine the wants of conservative people from the countryside with the wants and needs of more liberal residents from the city. Both groups value privacy, but one still wanted the ability to bring livestock indoors, and others needed the roofs to be habitable.

The Village of Hope is on land that once housed the Iraqi 5th Corps. Saddam Hussein confiscated the land to build the base, and the American engineers, assisted by lawyers, had to work out deed issues.

Other problems crept in. Unlike in the United States, the Iraqis put no directions or specifications on something as basic as cement. An Iraqi master builder Jabbar was living in a government building near the engineers and heard of the project. He walked to the wire and volunteered to help.

Working together, the Americans and Iraqis began solving the problems, Harvel said.

They built one house as a proof of concept. "It was amazing for us," Harvel said. "We're trying to put in true lines and such and the Iraqis said, 'Just put the walls up. We can fix that later.'

"It works fine," Harvel said with amazement in his voice. "But the process would give a building inspector in the States a heart attack."

The Americans assembled a group and began the larger project. The Americans began training Iraqis from all ethnic groups the fine arts of wiring, plumbing, tiling, roofing all the skills needed to put up houses. After a bit, the Americans backed out of the project and Iraqi leaders took over. By November, there were no Americans involved with hands-on work on the project.

Harvel said that it helped that many of the men had military experience. "They were used to discipline," he said. "That's not saying that I didn't have to fire some people early on to get their attention."

Outside events affected the project. Two Japanese diplomats were killed on the road near Tikrit. They were carrying $1.5 million for redevelopment projects. One of those projects was the Village of Hope.

The chief has nothing but praise for the work ethic of the Iraqi crew. "These people will hustle," he said. "I'd match them against any crew in the U.S."

The first families received their certificates Feb. 2. Kurd, Arab, Turkmen, Assyrian, Muslim, Christian all will live together and work together. "We would like to see the Village of Hope become the City of Hope," said Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, the 101st Airborne Division commander.

Officials said they hope the sight of all ethnicities and all religions living and working together is a beacon to the rest of Mosul and possibly to the rest of Iraq.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDeputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz shakes hands with some of the newest residents of the Village of Hope housing area outside Mosul. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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