Progress Moving Forward in Rebuilding Iraq
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 12, 2005 "Security and reconstruction go hand in hand," the top U.S. engineer in Iraq said today. "We have to have success on both fronts."
Brig. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division with headquarters in Baghdad, oversees reconstruction efforts all over Iraq. He spoke with American Forces Press Service in a telephone interview.
The general said the Iraqis have made tremendous strides since the fall of Saddam Hussein, but that tremendous obstacles remain.
The state of the infrastructure Americans found when they liberated Iraq is one indication of the job ahead, he said. In 2003, World Bank officials estimated it would take $60 billion to rehabilitate the Iraqi infrastructure to the point it was before 1990 and Operation Desert Storm. "That's electricity, oil, water, sewage -- all of the major essential service areas," Bostick said.
To rehabilitate the electrical grid alone, officials estimated it would cost $12 billion. To date, coalition efforts have cost about $4 billion.
"This country experienced 35 years of neglect under Saddam Hussein," Bostick said. Power plants, for example, have old equipment. He said when workers open up a generator or a turbine, they often find they have to do "wholesale rebuild of those items or replace them completely. So the cost is much higher than initially estimated."
He cited experiences at a power plant in the north. The initial assessment at the power plant pegged the cost of reconstruction at about $30 million. The initial estimates weren't as good as they could have been because of insurgent activity in the region. "As the security situation improved and more assessments (were) accomplished, the cost nearly doubled to $57 million," Bostick said. "We added the security costs, and that put the price up to about $68 million. There are many examples like that around the country."
But reconstruction has hit hyperdrive. When the Iraqis assumed sovereignty in June 2004, there were about 200 projects actually turning dirt. "Today there are more than 2,400, and more than 1,000 have been completed," the general said.
Bostick served as the 1st Cavalry Division's assistant division commander for maneuver in Baghdad before his current assignment, and that experience helped inform him in his new job. He said when the division arrived, many expected they would be involved with Phase 4 stability operations - meaning that there would be little enemy activity. "That really hasn't transpired," he said dryly. Still, the coalition has been able to conduct reconstruction in most of Iraq's 18 provinces.
But insurgents using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, grenades, mortars and some small-unit attacks have required closer cooperation between the military/security side and the reconstruction/engineer side. "The assumption that we could go out separate from the military side didn't work," he said. "We took our districts and embedded them with the divisions."
An example is Sadr City, a primarily Shiite area where Saddam Hussein neglected the people and infrastructure. In April 2004, followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr took to the streets and made the area a battleground for the 1st Cavalry. "You couldn't walk the streets of Sadr City before," Bostick said.
"But the maneuver forces defeated the insurgency, took away their safe havens and then followed with reconstruction," he added. "There's about $800 million now going into Sadr City - sewers, water, electricity, cleaning up the trash - and that has made a huge difference. On any given day you can have 15,000 to 20,000 Iraqis working in Sadr City. You can actually walk the streets now."
The Gulf Region Division put one of its offices in with the forward operating base of the brigade combat team responsible for the area. All reconstruction decisions are made in conjunction with the combat team.
The Iraqi awareness of the reconstruction projects is mixed, Bostick said. The projects in their neighborhoods are welcomed. But the large capital projects - like power plants, oil refineries, pipelines, sewage treatment plants and water treatment plants - are not close to large population centers, and go largely unremarked, the general noted.
The coalition has rebuilt 11 power plants, adding 2,000 megawatts to the Iraqi electrical grid. Workers also have erected 1,400 power towers carrying more than 8,600 kilometers of transmission wires. "That's really been invisible to Iraqi people," he said.
Bostick cited a recent trip he made. He stopped at one town where the coalition financed two wells for about $500,000. "They provided fresh water to 10,000 people who had none," he said. "We were welcomed by all members of the town, given flowers, given food, and there was a lot of joy and happiness."
He left the town and flew to a water treatment plant being built. Once operational, the plant will provide 100 times more potable water than the wells. The plant costs about $100 million. "It will take care of the entire region," he said. "But there was no joy because no one lives there. Still, this is going to make a huge impact for a long period of time. It will take 18 months to build, but when we're finished they won't need the wells any more."
The key comes down to building large infrastructure projects while showing tangible results in the cities.
Bostick used the electrical grid to detail some problems facing engineers. The plants have been neglected and for such a long time that there are few spare parts for the equipment. When the coalition arrived, the power plants were producing roughly 4,800 megawatts. Coalition engineers added 2,000 megawatts to the grid. "But we're down to pre-war levels," Bostick explained, because engineers then had to take existing plants offline for repair, cancelingthe overall gain.
Also, the country is the victim of success. "The beauty of capitalism is anyone can go out and buy the television with the satellite dish and the heater and air conditioner and the refrigerator and everything else that draws on the electrical grid," he said. "Pre-war, the demand was about 5,000 megawatts. Today, it's between 7,000 to 8,000 megawatts of demand. It's almost a 100 percent increase in demand from pre-war levels."
The general said his group is working with the Iraqi government to help train workers to take care of their power plants. The coalition also is working to get key parts.
U.S. officials are encouraging the ministries of oil and electricity to work together. Iraq has huge deposits of natural gas available, but most of the gas is burned off because Iraqi plants can't capture it and don't use it in their power plants. The gas burns cleaner and would mean less stress on power plants, the general said.
Iraq has come a long way, but the security situation is still tough and causes problems, Bostick said. But the coalition and Iraqi government are making progress. "They held successful elections, Iraqi security forces are really the pride of the country and bringing security throughout much of Iraq, and lot of construction is on the way," he said.
"At the end of the day, it's the Iraqi people," he continued. "What many folks were able to witness on television in terms of the courage and the inspiration they saw in the individual Iraqi who decided to go out and vote on Jan. 30, I feel we see every day in the reconstruction business. It takes great courage and determination to fight through this situation and to continue to build a better future."