Friday, May 4, 2007

Another Silent Success in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A soldier woke me up sometime around 8 a.m. I try not to get up too early, but I heard him say, “you'll drive to the North end of Baghdad.” I've been sitting around the Combined Press Information Center for several days, basking under the fluorescent lights, waiting for a mission, like Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now.
General order # 1 bans alcohol from US Forces and the journalists embedded with them, so I didn't need to be dragged into the shower like Capt. Willard. I grabbed a Coke and hand full of sweet tarts, slung my body armor over my shoulder and was ready to go in a matter of minutes.
I had no idea what I was in for, but the last thing I wanted to do in Iraq was to sit around in the Green Zone, with the war percolating around me outside the blast walls and concertina wire.
Erich Langer, a civilian press agent for the Gulf Regional Division Army Corps of Engineers quickly briefed me on the ride to his headquarters where I was met up with the convoy of privately owned civilian Humvees.
The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) is working with a 20 billion dollar budget in Iraq, Langer said. These funds have already been allocated, so the current situation in Congress does not effect the progress, yet. Over 300 projects are in various states of construction around the country of Iraq.
“It's bigger than the Marshall Plan,” said Langer, which was the plan for reconstruction in Germany after WWII.
Today, Langer told me, I was invited to view an annex to the Al Kadamiyah Court House. The 427 square meter structure cost $213,915.00 and was constructed by Al Ratba's General Contracts using Iraqi workers.
Dr. William DeLeo, ACE's resident engineer, Col. Tim Clapp, Director of the Joint Reconstruction Operations Center, and Dr. Qurash Fajir, adviser to the deputy prime minister of Iraq, Salam al-Zawba'i, came along for this informal tour.

The Al Kadamiyah Court House houses two courts, a Criminal Investigation Court and Personal Status Court. It's staff has 3 judges, 2 prosecutors and 11 judicial investigators. Between January and September 2005, the court saw 3,500 cases. The press release stated that on average, 300 litigants pass through the court house a day.
We approached the front of the court house, then ducked down a corridor past a woman with a small stand with chai. Emerging on the back side of the court house, we arrived to a set of lock doors. Within a few minutes, a court house official showed up with the keys and Dr. Qurash began discussing the future of this annex with him.
Apparently, the Iraqi Ministry of Justice no longer needed the space for administration purposes at the courthouse. The court official said that they want to use it as a Neighborhood Action Committee meeting area.
Deleo asked, “Does everything work?” I didn't hear if anything didn't work. It looked very like a good job to me. The newly constructed rooms had lights and wiring that worked, fire alarms, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, a bank of air conditions, screens on the windows, several bathrooms—all of which had Western toilets with bidets, rather than the standard Turkish toilets used in the Middle East.
“I am concerned about the operation and maintenance of the facility,” said DeLeo. A discussion ensued about the people who would look over the facility now that it is completed.

The representative of the court house said that they would need more funds to have someone over see the maintenance of the annex, and then asked if he could get some furniture.
DeLeo said the contract did not include any furniture or cubicle walls, but told the man he should request the funds from the Ministry of Justice, as well as the funds to maintain the annex.
“It will last longer if you take care it,” Deleo said. “The end user will have a sketch of what the building's needs are.”
Dr. Qurash is a surgeon and also heads the Iraqi surgical society. He reports to the deputy prime minister and he is trying to help develop the much needed public works infrastructure to maintain the new buildings being built in Iraq by the coalition forces.
“The violence needs to decline in Iraq,” said Dr. Qurash. He said that massive amounts of Iraqis that have fled the country because of the violence is hurting all the reconstruction efforts.
He said the Iraqi's fighting each other need to get together, talk, and forgive each other so that the war in Iraq will stop and expatriot Iraqi's can return home.
Dr. Qurash said that Iraqi is a wealthy country and if they could get back on their feet, the issues over war funding by the United States would not be so critical, because Iraq could pay for it through their own revenue.
Over all, Dr. Qurash remained optimistic.
“We will win,” he said.


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