Reconstruction teams work 'one block at a time' in Iraq
November 25, 2008
FORWARD OPERATING BASE WAR EAGLE, Iraq - Reconstruction in Iraq means more than fixing broken walls and stocking store shelves. It means securing a future where Iraqis can sustain themselves, a provincial reconstruction team leader said.
"The mission is to help bring a sustainable, democratic government, promote moderate [leaders] and encourage economic development in Baghdad," said Ted Andrews, team leader for Provincial Reconstruction Team 3 in Baghdad, which is embedded with the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team, Multinational Division Baghdad.
The 17-member team comprises representatives from the U.S. State Department and other contracted civilian employees. The team aims to help fill the country's reconstruction needs while focusing on governance, economic development, the rule of law and women's issues, Andrews said. It also meets regularly with elected officials and other government leaders in northern Baghdad to provide mentorship.
"We try to encourage [our] people to give them skills that they can promote and use when we're not there," Andrews said.
For this team, which operates in Baghdad's two most diverse districts -- the progressive Adhamiyah district and the volatile Sadr City district -- the challenges are vast and varied. Andrews cautions his team members to remain guarded in their hopes for success.
"It's hard for us to admit that we can't care about something more than they do," he said. "We do our best and at a certain point we've got to pull back and they've got to take it and make something of it."
And the Iraqis are making something of it. One success story that Andrews likes to tout is the Modern Sewing Company in Adhamiyah. With the help of startup funds provided by the United States and an Iraqi non-governmental organization, the company is making uniforms for school children in Sadr City and the some surrounding communities in Adhamiyah.
"We organized a way... to get the [clothes] out of the factory and into a warehouse and now, finally, more of them are moving up toward the kids," Andrews said.
Other successes are harder to quantify. As Andrews describes, progress isn't going to come in one sweeping event that defines an end to an American presence in Iraq.
"This is one of those places where you have to put your foot on the brakes and step on the gas at the same time," he said. "You've got to be pushing all these buttons in the society to get it going. We're only going to win one block at a time in this place. Victory is going to be a process, not a single event."
Sadr City presents unique challenges. The southern third of the district is separated from the northern portion by a concrete wall. The communities on each side of the wall must be dealt with in different ways, Andrews said.
"The frustration, still, is the slow progress within the government north of the wall in terms of some of the reconstruction and essential services," Army Col. John Hort, commander of the 3rd BCT, said. "Our job right now is ... to continue to work with [Andrews] and the other side of the river with the central government to ... get those types of initiatives moving a little bit quicker so the people can see not just a security element that they're very pleased with, but also the governance and the essential services."
The partnership between the provincial reconstruction team and brigade has allowed a sustainable level of progress to take hold with the Iraqi people feeling hopeful - something that has been absent for many years, Andrews said.
"Can Iraqi housewives go to the market and buy vegetables and chicken with a much-reduced fear that they're going to get blown up' That's the sort of progress we're doing," Andrews said.
(Army Sgt. Zach Mott works in the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office).