TF Danger Troops, Locals Work to Rebuild Tikrit
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
TIKRIT, Iraq, June 21, 2004 First Infantry Division officials in Saddam Hussein's hometown are working through a program management office to maximize reconstruction funds within the area.
The division's commander, Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste, told Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, and Ambassador Jim Jeffrey June 18 that his unit's engineers are working with Iraqi engineers to determine how best to spend $60 million dollars available in reconstruction funds.
Wolfowitz visited various sites in Iraq since June 16-19. Casey, who has been nominated to become commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and Jeffrey, who will become deputy chief of mission in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, accompanied the deputy secretary.
An important aspect of the program management office's success is enlisting the help of local and regional leaders in selecting projects, which recently have included water, sewage and irrigation projects.
"Now they can't say (the Americans) just spend money on what we think is good for Iraq," Batiste said. "Now they're part of the project selection process."
Another critical element has been hiring Iraqis to do the work. To date, Task Force Danger's PMO has begun programs that created jobs for 4,000 local Iraqis.
"We can use non-Iraqi major contractors," Batiste said, "but we must use local sub-contractors." Batiste said when he hears from local sheiks, they carry the same message: "When you bring these programs in, make sure you hire Iraqis."
Since March 15, division officials have also spent $41 million from a separate fund called the Commanders Emergency Relief Program. CERP dollars come from U.S. appropriated funds to be used by commanders on small-scale projects as they see fit to better the Iraqi communities in their areas of operations.
A 1st ID official noted the division has only $23.5 million in this fund for the rest of this year.
This immediately caught Wolfowitz's attention. "You spent $41 million in three months, and you have $23.5 million left for the rest of the year?" he asked Batiste.
In an interview later, Wolfowitz said increasing CERP funding would take congressional approval and is something officials would consider.
Batiste noted reconstruction will be a long process and must be handled out in the provinces. "It can't be done from Baghdad," he said.
He also said he felt it's important to put a personal face on reconstruction projects in his area. The general said his commanders and engineers get to all ground breaking and ribbon-cuttings for reconstruction projects. "This is a critical period," Batiste said. "We've got a lot of momentum built up right now; we don't want to lose it."