Focus in Eastern Baghdad Shifts from Fighting to Reconstruction
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Nov. 7, 2004 As fighting between militiamen loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and multinational forces has subsided, the focus for Task Force Baghdad soldiers has shifted from combat operations to reconstruction, military officials here said.
In the Thawra district, commonly referred to as Sadr City, infrastructure projects estimated at $161 million resumed after a long hiatus.
Sadr City is home to more than 2 million people in northern Thawra. The area has a high unemployment rate and has been a focus of militia recruitment.
As a result, military officials said, the region had been the scene of fighting between militiamen and multinational forces.
"The militia appears to be cooperating," said Army Lt. Col. Lawrence Holmes, commander of the 20th Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. Holmes' unit works with the Iraqi government on infrastructure projects in the area.
"[This] will enable us to use the essential services as a tool to stop the fighting," Holmes said.
Essential services have been defined by the 1st Cavalry Division as electrical networks, sewage pipelines and pump stations, running water, and trash disposal. Projects such as the renovation of fire and police stations have also drawn from the millions of dollars dedicated to essential services in the region.
"Once the people see all the construction that's going on out there, we're going to build so much momentum that the militia will not be able to get a foothold," Holmes said. "We're going to put 15,000 people to work on an area that had been neglected for over 35 years under (Saddam Hussein's) regime."
Holmes said that before early August of this year, when fighting flared up in Sadr City, infrastructure projects all over the district were under way.
When militiamen made threats against Sadr City-based contractors working on projects in northern neighborhoods, the 1st BCT made the decision to shift all efforts to the more stable southern end of the neighborhood in the interest of safety.
As a result, thousands of residents of Sadr City lost their jobs, he said. "Fifteen thousand people we were employing in Sadr City lost their jobs because of the militia," Holmes said.
"When (the people of Sadr City) saw the militia start fighting, they saw the benefits of the projects go away," he added. "(The militiamen) are not interested in seeing the Iraqi people make progress; they're only interested in causing trouble."
Local Iraqis noticed the correlation as well, Holmes said.
"People started asking about it, and we think (their opinion) had a direct influence on the effort of having the militia turn in their weapons and start the disbanding process," he said.
Within three weeks of the resumption of projects in northern Sadr City, reconstruction projects will create an estimated 16,000 jobs and put much needed money into the local economy when completed, Holmes said.
(Courtesy of Multinational Force Iraq.)