U.S. Soldiers Work With Iraqis To Stop Corruption
February 5, 2007
BAYJI, Iraq, Feb. 1, 2007 - When the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, deployed last August in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, leaders saw fit to place the task of providing security for the Bayji Oil Refinery to the paratroopers of Company B, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, in hopes of preventing corruption and ensuring security.
Capt. Kwenton Kuhlman, Company B's commander, works diligently trying to end the corruption at the refinery and to help form a foundation which incoming units could continue to build on.
The Bayji Oil Refinery is one of the three largest refineries in Iraq, producing more than 75 percent of Iraq's refined products, making it one of the more important infrastructures in the country.
The facility employs more than 5,000 people, including security guards hired by the Oil Protection Force, which are all employed by Iraq's Ministry of Oil.
"Security is always at an elevated level, especially when we start to disrupt corruption. When (anti-Iraqi forces) start to lose money, it increases our threat level. Basically the better we (and the Iraqis) do our job, the more danger we are in," said Kuhlman.
The Oil Protection Force provides security for the refinery by manning the gates and more than 30 guard towers strategically placed around the perimeter of the refinery.
Because of problems with guards bribing and extorting drivers, the Oil Protection Force fires and hires at least 10 people a week, said Hassan Ahmad, an employee of the Oil Protection Force.
Ahmad added that the problem is not nearly as severe as U.S. Forces suggest, though evidence collected by Company B contradicts his assumption.
"We have caught guys at the pumps, pumping extra fuel. We have caught guys short-changing government fuel tankers. We have caught a couple of Oil Protection Force guys taking bribes from oil tankers," said Kuhlman. "The Iraqis are very aware of what is going on at the refinery."
This has caused many problems, including increased black-market fuel points. Everyday, Iraqis wait hours in line to get a tank of gas or pay double the government price, said Maj. Curtis Buzzard, executive officer, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.
"I am beginning to get a sense that the people are fed up with it, especially the average Iraqi. They are tired of their day-to-day lives being interrupted by this fuel process," said Kuhlman.
In general, people affected by this are scared to stand up and stop the corruption in fear for their lives or their family's safety. Many key leaders and sheiks are frustrated feeling that they can't make a difference, said Buzzard.
Bayji's oil refinery produces $8 million to $11 million in potential exports every year.
"Ultimately it is the Iraqis problem to solve. All security issues here should be solved by Iraqis," said Kuhlman. "It is an assistance role we take, it's not a lead role and that's the bottom line. We are like an honest broker out there."
Lt. Gen. Abdul-Aziz, commander of the 4th Iraqi Army Division, has told Kuhlman that he will permanently garrison an infantry battalion at the refinery to help with the security and corruption issues and is currently in the process of making good of his promise.
Iraqi soldiers from strategic infrastructure battalions will also provide security at the front gate of the refinery, based on Aziz's plan for the facility.
To help be the "honest broker" Kuhlman tasked two of his men to assist him in finding who the key players are in the extortion and corruption that is plaguing the facility.
Sgt. Stephen Truesdale and Pfc. Roger R. Dean make up the Oil Gas Refinery Enforcement team. Both are infantrymen with Company B and have law enforcement backgrounds as police officers before enlisting into the Army. They use basic investigative techniques and know-how to propose methods to reduce corruption.
The team also assists Iraqi Security Forces in acquiring information from people to form prosecutable cases.
"It's not something that you can do every now and then. It's something that you will need to be dedicated to," said Truesdale. "If I'm not at the refinery, doing paper work on the refinery or teaching people about the refinery, then I'm on the internet researching different ways we can go about stopping the corruption."
Truesdale compares the situation to the Donnie Brasco story saying it took Brasco seven years to get into the mafia and start getting evidence to prosecute the guilty.
"It's not something we can solve while we're here, but what we are doing will lay a good foundation for the next unit that comes in," said Truesdale. "This is a system that has been in place for a long time so it's not something we can change drastically, but if we can change the way they do business, hopefully we can detour it enough to make a lasting dent in the money flow between the corruption, refinery and the insurgency."
"We're trying to find the honest men in there. Just somebody who wants turn to this money over to what it can do instead of what it is doing," said Dean.