Six years success in southern Iraq, Mission complete for U.S. reconstruction team
July 6, 2011
BABIL, Iraq " In a few weeks, the Babil Provincial Reconstruction Team will close its doors on Contingency Operating Site Kalsu, leaving behind a trail of success that spans six years.
Throughout the years, the Babil PRT has witnessed the completion of 3,678 of their projects serving the economic infrastructure, governance, heritage, public diplomacy, essential services and rule of law, bringing greater stability and growth to the province.
With over $544 million spent in Babil, much has been improved and accomplished. Members of the PRT have stated that economic growth has been particularly strong as a result.
“Agriculture and tourism are strong and have great potential to grow,” said Dr. Rick Roberts, the Babil PRT leader.
From the efforts of the PRT, Babil has become the land of fish and honey. The province is the leading producer of these items, supporting more than 70 percent of total production across the country.
“We see operations both big and small for beekeeping,” said Roberts. “From widows with young children caring for a single hive to farms with multiple hives, there are many who benefit from this.”
With the Euphrates River lower than many have seen in years, fish farmers are now using methods to grow their fish without removing water from this main source. Instead, they are building cages to grow them right in the river itself.
The PRT has also helped citizens of Babil realize the vast tourism possibilities in the area. By providing funds to improve many of Babil’s historic sites, the people can now begin to explore opportunities to draw local visitors as well as people from outside the province and, quite possibly, outside Iraq.
Roberts and his team provided instruction to those responsible for the now completed historic Babylon Ruins site to help them develop their tourism program.
“We designed sample guides that showed what people in the area could see inside the museum and on the grounds of the ruins,” said Roberts. “They can capitalize on bringing in the many thousands of religious pilgrims passing through each year and have the ruins be another resting point along the route.”
Along with agriculture and tourism, rule of law development has been a focal point for the PRT and is seen in the recently completed Hillah courthouse project.
The project broke ground in 2006 and was first completed in 2010, but upon inspection, the original construction had some flaws. Iraqi engineers were unable to identify the whereabouts of the original contractor, and the building sat for over a year, unoccupied.
The PRT and Iraqi engineers dedicated many months to identifying the projects’ shortcomings, trying to attain additional funding and looking for a new contractor to finish the building.
The PRT has received much support from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Babil Province. The 3rd ACR arrived in 2010, and Col. Reginald E. Allen, the regimental commander, met with the PRT to discuss the completion of the courthouse and other projects.
“Colonel Allen told me that the courthouse was a priority and was crucial to the progression of Iraqi rule of law in Babil,” said Lou Simonetti, a PRT engineering team leader from Baltimore. “I was able to get the regiment to allocate the funds, and we started once again to finish the building.”
A new contracting team was assembled and work began to finish the project that many once considered a lost cause. Some of the Iraqi contractors believed the courthouse would take years to complete, but with teams working days and sometimes nights, the loose ends began falling together.
Almost a year after work began a second time on the practically abandoned building, it now stands high on the horizon with decorative tile fountains spraying water into the air, brightly painted walls and columns supporting a crowned roofline and a large dome in the center.
“Working here in Iraq with the PRT you get to see change in real time,” said Roberts. “Typically projects within the diplomacy arena can run 10 years before they bear fruit. In two years here I have seen industries take off and thrive as a result of our efforts and that kind of positive reinforcement is what makes this worthwhile.”
Roberts also cited one special ingredient that has made all of these things possible.
“The support we get from the Soldiers of the 3rd ACR is amazing,” he said. “They have always done the impossible to make sure we have transportation and security and our job couldn’t be done without their enthusiastic support.”