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A 'Tired' Iraq Faces Future Renewal

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2003 – "All of Iraq is tired," said Muhammad, an electrical worker at Baghdad South power station, during an interview in Baghdad May 8.

By that he meant the infrastructure in the country is worn. And while power is getting to most of the population, much has to be done to repair decades of Saddam Hussein's neglect.

Muhammad asked Spc. Tom Wirges, a soldier with the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade, what the electrical and water situation is like in America. "In America, every time you turn on the lights, there is electricity," Wirges said. "Every time you open the faucet, there is pure water."

Muhammad said that has never been the case in Baghdad, except in the richest neighborhoods.

Life is returning to normal in Baghdad, and most of the people seem to understand the coalition will help toward a better life for most Iraqis. "The kids all love us," said Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Joseph, of the 50th Public Affairs Detachment. Joseph, who crossed the berm with the rest of the 3rd Infantry Division into Iraq March 19, noted that the children were the first to shake off the fear of Saddam Hussein.

Older people, he said, took longer. But by the time the division reached Baghdad, there was real jubilation in the streets.

The Baghdad that coalition forces took had no power, little running water and no public facilities such as garbage pick-up, sewage treatment, courts, firefighters and schools. Setting these up became the priority. American special operations forces and civil affairs personnel began the process.

Small teams canvassed neighborhoods, assessing the damage in an area and what it would take to repair or work around it. They also identified local leaders and worked to put together a team of Iraqi and U.S. personnel to make things happen in the neighborhoods.

But it's going to take time, said all concerned. "In 20 years, there was no investment here," said Jawad Eidam, a professor at the Baghdad University who is working with American infantrymen to reopen the College of Agriculture. "All the money went to wars."

A similar refrain is heard all over the city. From the Iran-Iraq War of 1980 to 1988, to the 1991 Persian Gulf War to Operation Iraqi Freedom, Saddam Hussein plunged his country and the region into more than 20 years of war and chaos. His unwillingness to obey U.N. resolutions meant starvation and malnutrition for many children and old people in his country.

And yet money was there. The U.N. Oil-for-Food Program should have provided enough money for all to eat, to give all adequate health care and to provide all with safe drinking water, Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid officials said.

Instead, Saddam sank the money in maintaining his rule, pursuing dreams of regional hegemony, building elaborate palaces for himself and regime supporters and in beefing up the military and Republican Guard.

Power is one example. Baghdad South, where Muhammad works, has early-1960s technology. The water system is similarly hampered. And sewage treatment plants when they work essentially remove just solid materials. Billions of dollars will be needed to get these facilities running and billions more to get the plants technologies that will do the processes more efficiently.

But efficiency will cut two ways. About 65 percent of Iraqi families received some sort of government paycheck. "The government is the largest employer," said Navy Capt. Ted Brown, who was in charge of paying electrical workers $20 emergency wages.

"Families get family members jobs in the public sector. There often is no work, but there is a paycheck. At some point in the future, this type of nepotism is going to have to stop if Iraq is to become a modern, efficient economy, U.S. officials said. For the time being, they said, getting money into the pockets of Iraqis and starting the economic gears moving will help.

Reviving business hinges on the security environment. Coalition troops are patrolling the street, and the coalition is getting the Iraqi police back on the streets. Little kiosks have sprung up all over Iraq selling cigarettes, sodas and the Iraqi version of fast food.

Other examples abound. Up until Saddam Hussein fell, having a satellite dish was illegal. Now they are for sale on every corner of Baghdad.

Food is a problem in some neighborhoods. Nongovernmental agencies are working with ORHA, the military and the World Food Program to get food to those areas. The U.S. Agency for International Development sent its disaster assistance response teams to Iraq to help get needed supplies in quickly.

"But we have not really seen a disaster," said one team member. "We see some want, but nothing on the scope of what we feared. There was a possibility of hundreds of thousands of refugees. There hasn't been. There was the possibility of massive starvation. The markets are full."

Under Saddam Hussein, all decisions were made in Baghdad, and passed through Baath Party channels to the cities, towns and villages. Building a new political infrastructure will be tough.

"We're already identifying the local leaders," said Army Brig. Gen. Jack Kern, the commander of the Civil Affairs Command headquartered in Baghdad. There are proposals to have neighborhood councils, eventually leading to an elected political structure. "It's messy," Kern said. "That's democracy."

Kern said that getting the Iraqis to express opinions does not seem to be a problem. Getting them to work out compromises is somewhat tougher.

Coalition officials believe that working with the Iraqis, the major problems will be solved soon. "We have the knowledge and wherewithal to fix the power, water and sewage," said an ORHA official. "The infrastructure will be fixed. A political solution will take longer. But if it works, it will be an example to all other areas in the region. There's a lot at stake here."

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