Northwest Baghdad residents welcome variety of improvements
BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing more than $50 million in essential service projects in northwest Baghdad. Water and sewer lines are being repaired, roads paved, and electrical distribution networks upgraded under contracts USACE is managing.
“And that’s just a portion of the work being carried out there,” said Lt. Col. Glen Masset, commander of the U.S. Army’s 9th Engineer Battalion, who keeps track of all ongoing work in his battlespace. Baghdad city government (Amanat), United States Agency for International Development, the Provincial Reconstruction Team, and 9th Engineer Brigade are all sponsoring projects to help the Iraqi people. “Our top priority is ensuring the Iraqi government is in the lead on all this work as it strives to improve the lives of families there with functioning water and sewer lines, electricity, fuel, and an economy generating jobs.”
USACE project engineer Dr. William Deleo visited the area with the 9th Engineers Sept. 8. “It’s great to see the various improvements taking place,” he said. “Iraqi construction crews are hard at work. Families there are seeing firsthand that their government is functioning and things are getting better. They’re all hoping for a better tomorrow and these are all steps leading to that goal.”
Note: Norris Jones is a Public Affairs Specialist with the Gulf Region Central district, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Iraq.
Troops, local council, work to improve markets, small businesses
By Multi-National Division - Baghdad PAO
Sep 9, 2007 - 6:33:28 PM
Blackanthem Military News
BAGHDAD, Iraq - "Everyday it's improving," Capt. Joseph Guzowski, the commander of Troop A, 4th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, remarked about a small market in Salhiyah after a walk-through and assessment of it earlier in the day.
The Soldiers of "Apache" Troop have been patrolling the central Baghdad neighborhood on a daily basis since taking over operations of the area in June, and during that time, their focus has been on working in conjunction with the Salhiyah Neighborhood Advisory Council to improve the lives of this small, yet densely populated area that lies in downtown Baghdad just outside the International Zone.
After helping renovate and reopen several schools in the area over the past few months, they are now turning their attention toward economic issues by focusing on the markets, which are populated with small businesses.
"It takes a little while to get these projects up and running, but slowly it's improving," Guzowski, originally from Buffalo, N.Y., said. "What I'm hoping to see is at least five or six of the market shops starting to improve or rebuild."
The Soldiers accompanied by NAC member, Dhia, began their assessment with a small market lying just outside the Salhiyah apartment complex Sept. 5.
"All the markets: they are doing well," Dhia said. "They keep building more markets because this sector is so safe. They're doing good business over here."
After completing the walk-through, Guzowski said that they want to help to continue cleaning up trash in the area and repaving the sidewalks, but that one of the major problems is the traffic flow into the market.
"There's only two main routes in and out of the area, so we've got to improve the roads there," Guzowski said. "We also want to put up some swing barriers so local residents can just get in and out."
Aside from cosmetic and security improvements, the assessment gave them a chance to talk to some of the business owners about a micro-loan program that is being started in the area.
The micro-loans, which are provided with money by 4-9 Cav and made available through the Salhiyah NAC, will be granted in increments of $2,500, with the goal that investing into small businesses will benefit the entire community.
"We work together and we find out which businesses are more in need and start with them just by talking to the shop owners," Guzowski explained. "What we ask every NAC member to do is to go into their local communities and find businesses that need a loan, maybe for a new fridge or stove so they can hire more employees to stimulate the economy.
The program can also offer loans to potential business owners who approach the NAC with their plans.
"People can present business plans to the NAC and request small business loans," Dhia explained. "We're trying to help people one way or another."
Guzowski said that these cooperative assessments will continue with other market area in Salhiyah, but so far, the early feedback from business owners has been very positive.
"They're very excited, especially the smaller shop owners," he said. "Those guys are very appreciative, and I think once one or two of them take off and are running, we'll get a better response - just word of mouth throughout the community.'
"It shows that the local economy is getting under way and local government is getting under way."
Significant Structural Progress Reported on Basrah Children's Hospital Construction
By John Connor, Gulf Region South district
Sep 11, 2007 - 7:28:50 PM
Blackanthem Military News
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Construction on the Basrah Children's Hospital is showing "significant structural progress" now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is leading the high-profile initiative.
That assessment was delivered at a conference in Baghdad by Lt. Cmdr. Chad Lorenzana, the resident engineer handling the project for the Basrah Office of the Gulf Region South arm of USACE. "It's actually starting to look like a hospital," he said of the project, whose champions include First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He said construction is now 64 percent complete.
Lt. Col. Kenneth McDonald, the deputy GRS commander who heads the Basrah office, said the overall cost of hospital is $163 million. He said when the hospital actually opens will be determined by the Iraqi Ministry of Health but that the target opening date is January 2009.
The plan calls for construction of a state-of-the-art pediatric facility with a focus on oncology. Participating in the Bagdad conference were representatives of the several organizations involved as partners in the project. They reviewed developments to date and prospects and challenges as the project moves toward completion.
"While it looks good and there has been a lot of progress, we're not done until we're done," said Brig. Gen. Michael Walsh, commander of USACE's Gulf Region Division in welcoming project partners and conference participants from Project Hope, the United Nations Development Program, the World Health Organization, the U.S. State Department, the GRD, and the Iraqi Ministry of Health.
A number of the partners noted that building the hospital is only part of the job. Other key tasks include staffing it with qualified people and maintaining the facility over time.
Col. Steve Hill, who commands GRS, said, "This is as complicated a project as I've ever seen." He said GRS has 153 projects in the works this year and that the Basrah Children's hospital is among those with the highest priority.
As the project moves ahead, "It's going to get more hectic" in terms of on site coordination, said Steve Vilonel of the UNDP, which is managing the use of a contribution of nearly $22 million by the government of Spain. Walsh said the number of partners involved in the project makes it imperative that communications be well connected at all levels. "So these meetings are very important," he said.
Lorenzana stressed the importance of getting engineers from the Iraqi Ministry of Health working on site so they can see how the hospital is being built and better understand what will be needed to maintain the facility going forward. He said a trailer has been set up for this purpose and is ready for occupancy. Col. Hill underscored this point, saying he'd like to see a list of the Iraqi MoH engineers designated to work at the site. He also said he'd like to know when they are expected to arrive.
Frederick Gerber of Project Hope, a non-governmental organization specializing in health education that has contributed $30 million to the project, reviewed the project's history, including its rocky start.
The U.S. Congress allocated $50 million for the project in 2003. "Fifty million is what this project was supposed to cost," said Gerber. Construction got under way in 2005, with the USAID as the lead agency and Bechtel as the contractor. The project was to have been completed in 2006. But problems arose, including site issues, soaring material costs, and a worsening security situation. Delays ensued and construction was halted. Last year, USACE replaced USAID as the lead agency on the project and Mid Contracting, an Amman, Jordan-based firm, replaced Bechtel.
Dr. Abd al-Samad Rahman, the Iraqi Minister of Health, addressed the conference. He spoke of the innocence of children and said of the effort to build the hospital that "it is the duty of us all." The Minister asked about the delays and Walsh replied in part that "a lot of this happened because we had a contractor who didn't do very well when he started and we asked him to leave."
Walsh also told the assembled project partners that "in my 30 years of construction, there are always problems and people of good intentions get together and find solutions."
Note: John Connor is a public affairs officer with the Gulf Region South district, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Iraq.