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Staff Sgt. Rene Ortiz, right, of the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion, shakes hands with a local official in Bichigan, Iraq, after inspecting the filtration system, background, of a water system to be used by the small village.

Staff Sgt. Rene Ortiz, right, of the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion, shakes hands with a local official in Bichigan, Iraq, after inspecting the filtration system, background, of a water system to be used by the small village. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

Staff Sgt. Rene Ortiz, right, of the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion, shakes hands with a local official in Bichigan, Iraq, after inspecting the filtration system, background, of a water system to be used by the small village.

Staff Sgt. Rene Ortiz, right, of the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion, shakes hands with a local official in Bichigan, Iraq, after inspecting the filtration system, background, of a water system to be used by the small village. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

Capt. Andy McConnell, center, and Staff Sgt. Rene Ortiz, right, consult with an Iraqi contractor on a project that would bring water from the Tigris River, background, into the village of Bichigan, Iraq.

Capt. Andy McConnell, center, and Staff Sgt. Rene Ortiz, right, consult with an Iraqi contractor on a project that would bring water from the Tigris River, background, into the village of Bichigan, Iraq. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

Women from the village of Al-Mashru, Iraq, collect water from an irrigation canal near their home on April 4.

Women from the village of Al-Mashru, Iraq, collect water from an irrigation canal near their home on April 4. (Charlie Coon / S&S)

HARDANIA, Iraq — Got B.O.? Not a big deal. Clean clothes? A luxury, not a necessity.

For many Iraqis who live in rural villages, having enough water to get by has always been good enough.

“They might bathe once a week, and they don’t do laundry like we do,” said Dr. (Capt.) Mike Tarpey of 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment. “The people are not used to having clean water like we are. It’s true with most Third World countries.”

Part of the U.S. military’s goal is to change that way of thinking. If more Iraqis had clean water to use, there’d be less hepatitis and gastrointestinal disorders such as diarrhea. So the military is working with local contractors in north-central Iraq to build water-cleaning facilities at villages along the Tigris River such as Hardania and Bichigan.

“Adequately chlorinated and treated water can effectively eliminate those (ailments), especially in children and the elderly, people with weak immune systems,” Tarpey said.

The process is simple enough.

Water is pumped from the Tigris River into a tank.

Alum, a type of metal, is added to the tank and binds with the heavier compounds in the water, such as dirt. The solids sink to the bottom of the tank.

The less-dirty water is filtered several more times, then chlorine is added and the water is pumped into the nearby village.

If the water facility works as it is designed, then the village of Hardania, population 250, will have clean water for years to come.

But the soldiers worry that the system will not be maintained after it is built. They don’t trust the local “water guy” to add alum and chlorine and regular intervals.

“I think what’s important to them is if water comes out the other side or not, not whether it’s clean” said Staff Sgt. Rene Ortiz of the 426th Civil Affairs Battalion.

“Once we’re done, it’s up to them. We let the local water ministry inspect it. We need them to be part of it,” he said.

Nor are the soldiers sure that there will be fuel for the generators that are used to power the pumps.

“They have problems getting fuel for the generators,” said Capt. Andrew Staples of Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment. “The fuel trucks that come out of Tikrit stop and sell their fuel on the black market. Once the fuel gets here to the local level, it’s expensive.”

Last week’s trip was at least the fifth to the water facility, whose contractor has had a hard time living up to the terms of the contract. Staples said last Monday it appeared the work was finally wrapping up and the battalion would likely make its final payment to the contractor.

“It’s functional,” Staples said. “It’s cleaner than what they get out of the Tigris, and I hope they’re happy with it.”

“It will not be enough [water] for this area,” one local man said through an interpreter.

Contractors gamble when they work for American money, according to Kasim Ballil, an engineer who has secured several jobs.

“It depends on the type of work,” Ballil said. “If you work for the [Iraqi] people, no problem. In this area, if you work for the government or U.S. Army, it’s difficult.

“Maybe they kill me, maybe they make problems for my family. If I tell them that the [Iraqi] government is now making things for the people, they don’t believe you.”

Ballil said that the tide was turning in his community in the favor of the U.S. military and the fledgling Iraqi government.

“More people want things to work,” Ballil said. “When they see (U.S. soldiers) here, they think you make things for the people.

“We are afraid of the bad guys. When the bad guys are gone, then you can come back here without your guns. I think we need one more year, maybe less than one year.”


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