By C. Todd Lopez
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq (Dec. 01, 2011) -- Electricity, water, schools, hospitals, transportation networks and an active police force are among the things often taken for granted in the United States. In Iraq however, these services are greatly appreciated. United States Forces-Iraq has been working to develop these and other "civil capacity" elements there in advance of USF-I's departure from the country at the end of 2011.
Since 2003, reconstruction efforts have resulted in an estimated 70,000 projects at a cost of $58 billion, according to Brig. Gen. Scott F. "Rock" Donahue, director, USF-I J-7.
Some of the notable projects include electricity and power plants. There are also many high-profile water projects, he said, including one on the Euphrates River, in addition to a number of water treatment plants.
"When you look at what we've done in Iraq since 2003, this is pretty impressive," he said. "Contributing 25 percent of the nation's potable water, we provided 2.45 million cubic meters of safe clean water per day to the Iraqis. (We) completed more than 1,600 school projects and over 800 projects to strengthen Iraq's electrical transmission grid. (We) contributed to the construction of nearly 1,200 bridges and executed numerous upgrades and repair projects to improve Iraq's transportation systems, roads, railroads, aviation, ports, medical facilities, public works facilities and oil and electricity infrastructures."
Donahue, an engineer, and formerly the commanding general, U.S. Army Engineer Division, South Pacific, and director, Multi-National Corps Iraq C7 from 2008 to 2009, credits the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for much of the civil capacity rebuilding efforts in Iraq.
"Much of the U.S. construction effort here was led by the Corps of Engineers," he said, adding that the Gulf Region Division of the Corps, activated in 2004, had been somewhat of a household term for seven and a half years. The division was consolidated to the Gulf Region District in 2009, and Donahue said their "full-spectrum construction management" work continues.
"Since 2004, we've been involved with over 5,000 projects worth more than $8.4 billion," he said.
The Corps of Engineers helped double the amount of power to the Iraqi electrical grid, for instance, and also helped increase oil production capacity by 3 million barrels a day.
Additionally, the COE worked on other public works projects including schools, hospitals, railroads, road construction and airport construction, "all designed to help build that civil institutional capacity," Donahue said.
The COE efforts were augmented at the tactical level, where divisions, brigades and battalions executed commander-driven reconstruction projects at the provincial level. Those efforts are part of the Commanders Emergency Response Program. There is also an Iraqi version of the program, the ICERP.
Donahue said the U.S. government has invested about $4 billion in CERP since 2004. About $2.1 billion of that funded more than 15,000 construction projects, while just less than $2 billion funded 22,000 non-construction projects, he said.
Lieutenant Col. Patrick Campbell, the civil affairs development chief with USF-I J-9, credits the 101st Airborne Division with the idea for CERP.
"We had all this money that we had seized -- Iraqi dinar -- we had truckloads of it," Campbell said. The 101st commander had "wanted to do something with it to get people back to work."
Campbell said it was initially suggested that the money be used to pay Iraqis to do such jobs as street cleaning, rubble clearing and trash pickup.
"From that sprang this funding called CERP," Campbell said. "Now it's a budgetary item we get allocated every year. It's meant to provide the commander on the ground cash in his pocket to make an immediate influence. It has proven to be a wonderful tool."
Campbell said CERP projects now cover "the width and breadth of the economy," from sewer, power and agriculture construction, to economic development in small, one-person sewing shops, to reconstituting the poultry industry. In one location, the program provided sewing machines and training to kick-start a small business. In another, it provided funds to raise chicks and better feed to help reinvigorate a poultry-processing facility.
"You name it, I think we've done it in Iraq," Campbell said.
One of the primary goals of CERP is to help develop the economy, in particular by eliminating unemployment.
"Most of the time when you have a CERP a project, they are gunning to create jobs." the colonel said.
In Iraq, the economy is largely oil-based, he said. But that industry cannot employ the number of people that need jobs in the country. "One of the things we tried to do in Iraq is diversify the economy," Campbell said.
Agricultural development is a good target, he said, because agriculture is labor intensive--and creates a lot of jobs.
Campbell said that in Iraq, transition to a free-market economy and away from the state-run economy that existed under the Saddam Hussein regime, has been something of a challenge.
"Before we came in here, the state would tell you what to grow, provide the seeds, provide the gas, tell you when to grow it. They'd come here and buy it for a set price and they'd repeat that over and over again," Campbell said.
He called the new free-market economy "alien" to Iraqis early on. "That was one of the things we did, a kind of education on free-market and how it works."
He likened the transition of moving to a free-market economy to that of the Soldier leaving the Army.
"It's kind of like when you leave the Army for the first time, you are out there without that safety net of a 'mother hen' taking care of everything," he said. "You have your food, you have your place to go, you have your retirement. When you are outside the Army and you have to get your own paycheck and you have to find your own way, it's kind of scary. That's the way it was for these folks too. But it can be done, and if done properly, it can be profitable."
U.S.-led economic development efforts in Iraq, involving nearly 14,000 projects, have resulted in some 23,000 new businesses being registered in the country over the last two years. The per capita income in the country has nearly doubled since then, and the Iraqi gross domestic product also doubled from $59 billion in 2003, to $117 billion in 2010. Additionally, the unemployment rate in the country has dropped to 15.3 percent from a staggering 28.1 in 2003.
Since 2003, civil capacity development in Iraq has improved the power supply in the country -- increasing power production from 3,764 MW in 2003 to about 7,045 in 2011, for instance. With U.S. assistance, the water supply in Iraq now provides 2.45 million gallons of potable drinking water each day to Iraqis, and sewage projects process 1.2 million cubic meters of wastewater each day to the benefit of some 5.3 million Iraqis.
U.S.-assisted health care projects in the country have also provided 3.2 million children with vaccinations, and decreased the infant mortality rate by 68 percent. And those children will now attend any one of more than 12,000 schools in the country--up from just over 9,000 in 2002.
"I don't know if there is a way to measure all we've done here," Campbell said. "But when we came in 2003, the infrastructure was pretty crappy. It was not well maintained. The only person who had constant power and light was Saddam Hussein and his cronies. But I know if you look around this country now you will see the infrastructure and the economy is light years ahead of when we rolled in here. There is no comparison."
When USF-I leaves Iraq, it will be the job of the Iraqis, with the help of the U.S. embassy, to keep the momentum going, and to maintain what was gained by civil capacity development there, Campbell said.
"A lot of the projects we do, we do with the understanding and agreement from the Iraqi government that they will continue them and maintain them," he said. "One of the things we do with the Department of State folks is to make sure that we keep helping with the governance, keep helping them understand that you have to maintain what you get and keep helping with the training to make sure that they can maintain it."