Soldiers deliver school supplies in Baghdad; more needed
September 20, 2006
BAGHDAD — American-led clearing operations near Sadr City took a softer approach Monday and Tuesday as soldiers from the Alaska-based 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team handed out much-needed supplies to Iraqi schools.
However, as is often the case in Iraq, the grateful recipients brought with them a laundry list of other, more basic needs that have yet to be addressed by the Iraqi government.
Among their requests: better security, more electricity, functioning sewer systems and better-stocked hospitals and schools.
On Monday, officials handed out generators and backpacks to grateful school headmasters in the Shab neighborhood. Top American military officials spoke with local leaders in the Shiite suburb about their needs.
Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who has long said that the path to security is paved with essential services, assured neighborhood leaders that infrastructure improvements were a top priority.
“This is just a start,” he said. “This is just a start.”
Neighborhood council member Ahmed Hannon said the gasoline-powered generators — about 130 in all — were requested by the neighborhood council.
“It will help security and will encourage the people to work with the American forces,” he said.
He added that he will track the donated generators to make sure they reach the schools and are used for their intended purpose.
Headmistress Hurriyah Mohammed, who runs a girls’ school in Shab, was delighted at the prospect of having a generator.
“We can have a fan for every classroom,” she said, beaming.
On Tuesday, Capt. Kevin Sharp, commander of the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment’s Company B, delivered seven boxes of donated school supplies to the Mohammed Bakr Sadr elementary school.
For school officials, the supplies were like icing on an unfinished cake: decorative and captivating, but lacking something.
School supervisor Abdul Mahdi smiled and eyed the boxes, which he said held enough for 20, maybe 30 students of the school’s population of 700.
“It’s not enough,” he said apologetically.
While Mahdi said he appreciated the boxes of notebooks, crayons and used toys and clothes, he quoted far more prosaic needs, such as fans, chalkboards, textbooks, plain composition books, vitamins and cleaning supplies.
However, he said, the flashy new supplies would serve a good purpose.
“These supplies will encourage students to come back to their school,” he said.
The soldiers also delivered about a dozen soccer balls, but they disguised them in a black body bag so as to get them by the mob of children standing outside the school. The children saw through the subterfuge, rushing the soldiers and tearing at the bag while yelling the characteristic chant of Iraqi children: “Mister! Mister! Mister!”
After the balls had been given out, the school’s headmaster made a peculiar request of his own: to keep the body bag.
The headmaster, who gave his name only as Hassan, said it was his intention to hoard the supplies until he had more to give out.
“Because we have 700 students here, this may make a problem for us,” he told Sharp. “We may wait until you supply us with more.”