By Sgt. Dustin Roberts , 2nd HBCT PAO, 1st Inf. Div., MND-BJuly 27, 2009
BAGHDAD - As northwest Baghdad was once a main-effort location to bring essential services to locals, representatives of the U.S. are focusing on the larger, rural areas of the Abu Ghraib Qada.
This job falls to the embedded Provisional Reconstruction Team-West, which works with the 2nd Heavy "Dagger" Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Multi-National Division - Baghdad, and is equipped with governance and economics specialists with expertise and experience from both the military and civilian realms.
The military and civilian leaders in the ePRT (w) and the Dagger Brigade share a common goal: to increase sustainability in the bond between locals and their political leaders to maintain the democratic establishment of Iraq for years to come.
The ePRT (w) looked for a simple way to strengthen that bond between citizens and their local government in Abu Ghraib through services that haven't been carried out since well before the Saddam Hussein era.
One method of strengthening those ties is to ensure their roads are paved, their trash is picked up and they have clean water to drink.
"The rural areas around Baghdad have never had essential services, such as road repair, trash pickup, removal of old cars, some of the things that the Belladiyahs do in Baghdad and the urban areas of Abu Ghraib like Nasir Wa Salam and Abu Ghraib City itself," said Stafford, Va. native and retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson, governance advisor, ePRT (w). "Outside those urban areas, people are traditionally dependant on their own."
After countless hours of Abu Ghraib visits and planning meetings, the ePRT (w) decided to take the concept of Public Works Sub Stations, which are fixed public works facilities in the city, and put it on wheels.
In order to service all of the rural areas in the Qada, the ePRT (w) worked with the Baghdad Department of Public Works, or Belladiyah, and the government of Abu Ghraib to form the Mobile Rural Support Team: a convoy of dump trucks, a road grader, a backhoe, a few pickup trucks, and workers who could travel the countryside to places like Zaidon and Aqur Quf to do road repairs.
"I think that people prefer clean streets to cluttered or filthy streets, or prefer paved and smooth roads to streets that look like the surface of the moon," said Centerville, Ohio native and State Department Representative Mark Powell, who has 20 years of diplomatic experience abroad. "I think the potential of this is tremendous; it's something that people can get their heads around."
Anderson said that more than three decades ago a similar concept was taken in well during the conflict in Vietnam.
"During the Vietnam War, when they were trying to get more presence in the provinces, they mixed U.S. and Vietnamese teams to go out and do the same thing," he said. "We used that model because it had a lot of effect in bringing some areas under control in that time. It sounds like something that worked in the past so we wanted to take that concept and use it in this theater."
Anderson added that some of Abu Ghraib's citizens sit on the fence of insurgency because they don't physically see their local government doing anything for them.
After surveying the citizens of Abu Ghraib, Anderson said less than 15 percent of the population had seen some sort of local government manifestation in the area.
"By sending out these trucks with the Abu Ghraib Qada logo on them and they see their local government doing something, they hopefully will start to get the impression that their government does take care of them and they have a better chance depending on their government than they do the insurgency," he said.
Abu Ghraib's government and the ePRT (w) decided to try out the MRST for a 90-day period, first focusing on eight chosen problem areas and responding to citizens' calls to where areas need services most.
"The sheiks and the Iraqi Army here actually see the problems here," said Lt. Col. Christopher Beckert, a native of Madison, Conn., deputy commanding officer, 2nd HBCT. "They can request through the Iraqi Government for this mobile team to go out and clean the areas that need help."
After the 90-day period of work the ePRT (w) said they will resurvey the area to see if the more locals have seen their government in action.
"It's very important that these projects aren't our [long-term] goal because we need more in the district, but it is a good start to provide the people in these areas with services," said Shakr Fiza, Quimaqam of Abu Ghraib. "I appreciate the efforts of the ePRT; we want Abu Ghraib to succeed and we are working very hard to help accommodate the people's needs."
Although the MRST is an American concept, the Abu Ghraib government and the Dagger Brigade hope it will be something worth keeping around.
"The idea is Iraqi Capacity. As we transition from a period of conflict and insurgency into an increasingly peaceful set of circumstances, we are trying to enable Iraqis at the local level, where the rubber meets the road, to where we get the local officials engaged with addressing and solving problems for their constituents," said Powell. "By doing so, letting local citizens see that their government is able to be responsive to their needs, they feel more of a sense of buy-in with their local institutions and representatives, which we think strengthens those bonds and improves the governance."