Civil affairs soldiers teaching Iraqis basics of governing on the local level
April 3, 2005
AD-DALUIYAH, Iraq — For Iraqis being taught to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, the treat is money. Teaching them a new way of doing business is the trick.
At least that’s what U.S. military civil affairs personnel say.
“You’ve got to spend the money, so they know it’s not just a promise,” said Capt. Andy McConnell, a team leader with the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion.
McConnell and other civil affairs soldiers throughout Iraq are trying to build governments. They’re building lots of small governments to solve local problems — fixing water mains, putting roofs on schools, painting bleachers at a soccer stadium.
Before, “small government” in Iraq meant knowing someone close to Saddam Hussein.
“It was almost political patronage,” McConnell said. “You had to know someone in Baghdad or Tikrit to make something happen. [A request] had to go all the way up, then come all the way back down.”
There is a small government now in Ad-Daluiyah, a city of 30,000 just south of Forward Operating Base McKenzie and about 30 miles north of Baghdad. It has a water “minister” who is supposed to get broken water mains fixed, an oil “minister” to build gas stations, and so on. As in the United States, there is a city council in place to dole out the money and oversee the work.
That’s the plan, anyway.
Since U.S. taxpayers are footing the bill, U.S. soldiers oversee the city council. They make sure that the lucrative jobs are awarded fairly, money is accounted for and workmanship is acceptable.
“[It is] like being a teacher in a classroom full of kindergartners,” McConnell said. “There’s a huge difference between the normal way we do business and the normal way they do business.”
In a country where even Saddam’s former palaces have doors that don’t shut properly, ensuring good workmanship is a big trick.
Last week, a civil affairs team stopped in Al-Alam to see if the $111,000 given to an Iraqi contractor to spruce up a soccer stadium was being well spent.
During a previous inspection, it was found that the new concrete walkway had been built two feet wide instead of four feet. The contractor had tried to save money and increase his profit.
“For the money he was getting paid, it wasn’t adequate for what he did,” said Staff Sgt. Richard Clark, also of the 426th CAB, a battalion of California-based Army reservists.
“Every now and then, you get lucky and find an exceptional contractor. But for the most part this is what you get.”
The team headed farther north to the village of Laq Laq, where they were spending $49,909 on a school and $49,677 on a mosque.
“That’s maybe a $20,000 project,” Clark said of the mosque. But the extra money is to cover training the new contractors, the civil affairs soldiers say.
For U.S. forces to leave Iraq, according to the Bush administration, the Iraqi people will have to be able to fend for themselves. For civil affairs soldiers, that means training Iraqis to conduct fair business and, eventually, pay for projects using money from Iraq’s oil reserves instead of U.S. taxpayer dollars.
“Some of the younger and more educated people in the government understand why it’s this way and why it’s good to have things happen this way,” McConnell said.
Others, he said, such as the old sheiks, aren’t catching on. If their tribe isn’t awarded a contract to a project, even to something such as a new school or clinic, the project could suffer a dismal fate, even after they are completed.
“I’ve seen my projects turn into burning holes in the ground, and I’ve been shot at,” McConnell said. “America did not do it in a day or two, and neither will Iraq.”