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Published:June 2nd, 2007 07:41 EST
Surge improves security, quality of life in Baghdad

Surge improves security, quality of life in Baghdad

By SOP newswire

The surge of Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces into Baghdad neighborhoods is aimed at improving the security situation in the Iraqi capital. Yet, there are other programs benefiting by having more boots on the ground during Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon.

“The surge has assisted civil military operations by putting more coalition eyes on the environment, so that we get a more responsive analysis of what essential services and economic development services are needed by the populace," said Lt. Col. John Rudolph, the assistant chief of staff of civil military operations for Multi-National Division – Baghdad.

Rudolph said civil military operations in MND-B’s area of operation, which run the gamut from governance to agriculture to infrastructure to economic improvements, have already dedicated more than $163 million of Commander’s Emergency Relief Project (CERP) funds to projects all aimed at improving the quality of life for Iraqis living in and around Baghdad.

“This really is about improving the quality of life for the Iraqis," said Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, the deputy commanding general for support with MND-B. That “support" role not only touches the lives of the 50,000-plus troops working under MND-B, but also the Iraqi people. He said it’s challenging to move ahead with quality of life initiatives in the face of extremist efforts to stop them.

“There is a perception that I’ve seen in every sector of this region we have responsibility for - when I talk to the Iraqis - that the Americans have the ability to put a man on the moon, and yet they can’t provide us with electricity," Brooks said. “That whole idea of an expectation that we promised and haven’t delivered causes a great deal of problems."

Most westerners and Americans, for sure, cannot conceive flicking on a light switch on the wall and having it click with no effect. But, Baghdad has never had electricity flowing to its six million residents 24 hours a day. Electricity, or the lack thereof, was also tool used by the Ba’athist regime to reward or punish the population.

“You saw areas favored by Saddam and his regime see power longer throughout the day, but they still didn’t get power 24/7," Rudolph said. “They still had to use what they called the ‘generator men,’ who were entrepreneurs who had their own generators and supplied power to local neighborhoods for the ‘off power’ periods - even during Saddam’s period."

Rudolph said that providing power to Baghdad residents remains a priority, as witnessed by the 62 projects accounting for more than a quarter of the civil military operations funds dedicated this year – more than $44 million. The challenge to get the lights on throughout the Iraqi capital remains an ongoing issue.

“It was an inefficient system to begin with and what we have done is by our electrification projects, in general, we’ve improved distribution so that the power that comes in is distributed more efficiently," Rudolph said. “However, the level of available power goes down. It goes out to more places, but it doesn’t last as long."

Brooks said the provision of power to Baghdad neighborhoods remains a function of governance, and it will be the Iraqi government that will need to illuminate the Iraqi capital.

“Our effort here has to be more than a physical one - to not only find ways to improve those systems physically, but also have to work back through that governance effort to ensure that people who are in positions of responsibility in government are not sectarian and are not biased in the delivery of essential services to all people," Brooks noted.

Improved security in some areas of the city has allowed life to flourish for some Baghdad residents. Temporary barriers erected throughout the city have created what military officials call “safe markets" and “safe neighborhoods." Rudolph said the market areas have benefited from the temporary barriers, keeping suicide car bombers at bay while allowing commerce to continue.

The marketplace in the Rusafa District in what is known as “Old Baghdad," on the east side of the Tigris River, is one of those success stories.

“Shoppers feel much safer going into the market now and they’ve actually seen an increase in the number of local citizens using that market," Rudolph said. “It’s a perception, an attitude that the stigma of the random violence has lessened."

The Doura Market is often a stop for visiting dignitaries to Baghdad in the southern Rashid District. The 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd “Black Jack" Brigade Combat Team from Fort Hood, Texas, conducted the initial assessment of the area and started the revitalization project there.

Doura Market, Rudolph said, went from an unorganized street market of only a few dozen vendors to a thriving market place with more than 200 sellers now. He said the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division from Fort Riley, Kan., now operates in Rashid, and even more improvements are underway.

“4-1st Infantry is following up in their footsteps with a barrier plan just like Rusafa," Rudolph said. “The shoppers (there) feel much safer in that environment. They’ve got solar-powered lights to provide security in the area. They have host nation security forces doing random patrols of the area, and because of these security measures more shops have opened up."

Haifa Street, in the city’s center, west of the Tigris River, was once known as a hot-bed of extremist activity. It was a battleground for the 1st Cavalry Division when they operated in Baghdad in 2004-2005, and again earlier this year.

The battleground is now a model neighborhood.

“We’ve turned that around," Brooks said. “Now, we have a thriving market area that is starting to grow and a revitalization process that will make the Iraqis really proud and recognize that things have improved."

All things start with security, Brooks said, but quality of life initiatives have been brought to life in areas of the Iraqi capital where the neighborhood and district advisory councils have worked in harmony for the good of their constituents.

“It’s where people in the neighborhood, people in the district recognize that they have needs and they’re the ones who should represent the people in that area," Brooks said. “Mansour has a very active district council that is functioning very, very well, and our recent security operations have enhanced that, so they feel more and more secure.

“They still remain periodically threatened, though," Brooks said. “You have to recognize that people who are performing well, especially in harmony, are often targeted by extremists who don’t want to see good governance to ever form here."

CERP funds are a “band-aid," Rudolph said. They are a way for coalition forces to provide immediate aid where needed. But MND-B, in conjunction with the State Department, is looking at long-term solutions to many of the issues facing the residents of the Iraqi capital.

“They use training programs for business practices and they also do micro-grants and micro-loans, but those are ‘payments in kind,’ Rudolph explained. “If a business needed, say, a cash register to be able to transact business activities, they wouldn’t get the money to buy it. They would get a cash register. It’s the items they would need, not the cash. As much as security has improved, we still don’t want cash-flow going into the hands of the wrong parties. That’s the best means of addressing it."

Brooks said MND-B has shifted its focus to long-term investments, versus short-term “band-aids" over the past three months.

“There’s been progress, but the approach that has been taken over the last several years for divisions like the 1st Cavalry Division was to find problems and fix them, and do it quickly," Brooks said. “We’ve had success in that. But the reality is that it doesn’t leave an enduring systemic effect; so we’ve shifted our focus here over the last three months to look at the holistic system sewage on the west side of the river, for example, and identifying where the pump stations are, where the lift stations are, where the pipes that may be broken are, where there is standing sewage. Then, applying the resources, within the city of Baghdad and the government of Iraq, where they really matter."

By looking at the broader picture, and engaging the local, district and provincial governments, Brooks said long-term progress is possible.

“What’s changed, I think over that last few years, is how much the larger infrastructure has been revitalized," Brooks said. “Water pipes have been replaced, electrical transformers have been installed, but it’s that last 100 meters worth of the service that really still has to become focused. Then people will really recognize a difference."

While on one hand, extremist elements are attempting to create chaos in the city streets and deter progress and quality of life initiatives, Brooks pointed in the other direction, to the American Soldier, and attributes much of the progress made to date in the Iraqi capital to the dedication of troops putting their boots on the ground to interact with residents and local officials.

“We wouldn’t have any of these successes; we’d have no progress if it weren’t for the contributions of our troops who are out there," Brooks said. “We ask an awful lot of our Soldiers who are deployed over here. Certainly, we know we put them into harm’s way to accomplish whatever mission we set out to do. But their energy, their passion, their willingness to keep trying in the face of deliberate set backs at the hands of the enemy or at the hands of sometimes the Iraqis themselves - they’re out there every day and they keep moving forward.

“In all these areas, not only security, but in governance, it may be that the first, best way for people to come together is because an American Soldier encouraged a district council member to sit in the same room with another," Brooks added. “And governance begins, then, with the passion and the heart of the Soldier in this country."