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Reconstruction Fund Helps Provide Better Life for Iraqis

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2004 – Millions of dollars dispensed through a U.S. civil affairs fund have fueled myriad reconstruction projects across Iraq, improving the lives of Iraqis in the post-Saddam Hussein era, according to a senior U.S. military civil affairs officer.

Army Brig. Gen. David Blackledge, commander of the 352nd Civil Affairs Command, noted today in a Baghdad briefing that U.S. civil affairs troops in Iraq are playing a vital role in operations "to improve the lives of Iraqis across the country."

The Commander's Emergency Response Fund was established in May, the general explained, "to allow commanders to make an immediate impact and address local (Iraqi) issues."

To date, commanders have allocated more than $126 million in CERF money, Blackledge pointed out, to improve schools, buy new textbooks, clean up water, provide electricity, and improve medical care and security across Iraq.

Each major U.S. military command in Iraq, the general noted, is assigned CERF funds according "to the geography, population and needs of their respective region."

Blackledge said civil projects funded by CERF "are the grassroots effort by local commanders to quickly deal with short-term needs" of the Iraqi populace. The projects, he added, are coordinated between U.S. commanders, local Iraqi leaders and officials, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The CERF fund "has been tremendously successful, because it is administered by the local commander who is actually living and interacting with the (Iraqi) citizens in his area of responsibility," Blackledge pointed out.

Almost 1,000 CERF projects totaling more than $6.8 million, Blackledge said, have been established to support newly established Iraqi local governments, as well as Iraq's new legal system.

An independent judiciary system is operating across Iraq for the first time in nearly 30 years, he pointed out, noting that nearly all of Iraq's 400 courtrooms now are open.

After years of censorship and oppression by the deposed regime, Iraqis today can read about developments across their nation through more than 200 independent newspapers, Blackledge pointed out.

And, he continued, 35 percent of Iraqi households now get news through satellite TV dishes, which were illegal under Saddam Hussein.

Public health across Iraq continues to improve, Blackledge pointed out, noting $6.4 million in CERF funds have assisted in the reopening of Iraq's 240 hospitals and 95 percent of the country's 1,200 health clinics.

And, Iraqi health care facilities in need of repair "are undergoing rehabilitation and reconstruction," he added.

More than $29 million in CERF funds have been spent for education, Blackledge pointed out, noting that 5.9 million Iraqi students have been registered and are now attending school, a figure, he said, that exceeds pre-war numbers.

Outdated schoolbooks filled with Baathist Party propaganda have been jettisoned, Blackledge said, noting 51 million propaganda-free textbooks have been printed and distributed.

All 22 universities and 43 technical institutions across Iraq are now open, Blackledge reported, noting college applications "are running at a record pace."

More than $22 million in CERF funding has been spent on increasing security for the Iraqi people, Blackledge reported. More than 230,000 Iraqis, he said, are now employed in security work. Iraqis, he added, now account for half of all security forces in Iraq.

And, more than $9 million in CERF funds have been used in more than 1,200 Iraqi water and sewer projects, Blackledge said. This including the clearing of more than 18,500 kilometers of irrigation canals, which, Blackledge said, which resulted in the delivery of "water to tens of thousands of farmers, creating jobs, and revitalizing the Iraqi economy."

Iraqis, Blackledge noted, "see the improvements and are optimistic." For example, the general noted that seven out of 10 Iraqis polled expect their country and their personal lives to be better five years from now.

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