Work Resumes on Rebuilding Najaf With Sadr Gone
By Ross Adkins
Special to American Forces Press Service
NAJAF, Iraq, Sept. 15, 2004 In spite of damage inflicted during clashes between the new Iraqi security forces and radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia here two weeks ago, the city now has a smile on its face.
Once under tight control of Sadr, the citizens here -- victims of a misguided few -- were bullied, harassed and even killed if they offered any resistance. Today, the fear is gone, and the city is rebuilding in the wake of war.
A drive through the littered streets is met with friendly waves and thumbs-up signs from children and adults working alongside the road. Relief from militant rule seems to have left young and old with feelings of hope and anticipation of a better future.
"We are happy now because al-Sadr is gone," said a young man in the farmers' market area who identified himself as "Amir." "We now want things put back up."
Work on hospitals, schools, streets and water systems again is under way, as well as cleanup and new restoration projects. Electricity and drinking water were restored within hours after fighting ceased. The Iraqi electricity ministry mandated shortly after the cessation of fighting that Najaf receive power around the clock as long as was needed, and the water ministry moved workers in to restore drinking water within hours of the withdrawal.
"We don't blame Americans, but we do want them to clean it up," said an elderly gentleman wearing the traditional shirt-like dishdasha and shawl as he pointed to a pile of rubble where stores used to stand. "Now. Not later, now. We want to get our lives on and return to normal."
Returning to normal was a universal goal echoed by the crowds of young and old who lined the streets of the city. Their polite gestures of friendliness spoke of great hope, but their body language cried impatience.
Gov. Adnan al-Zuhfa has put the full weight of his office behind the efforts to clean up debris that litters the streets and return sanitation to full operation. He has informed the interim government in Baghdad that he is looking to them for more assistance and money.
More than 100 projects have been either re-instituted or begun with funding from various ministries of Iraq as well as multinational sources. One can almost feel the restlessness of the people of Najaf, impatient to get their lives back to normal. But they can now smile in anticipation of that day.
(Ross Adkins serves with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Gulf Region Division.)