Mideast edition, Friday, June 1, 2007

BAGHDAD — Water was everywhere at the neighborhood treatment plant in Qadisiyah on Sunday afternoon, shining like vast blocks of blue-green Jell-O and filling to the brim the plant’s concrete holding tanks.

But for three days, barely a drop had flowed from faucets in homes, businesses and the hospital in Qadisiyah, which is just outside the Green Zone at the heart of Baghdad’s government center.

“Have you called anybody?†a frustrated U.S. Army Capt. Don Cherry asked the water treatment plant manager as temperatures hit well over 110 degrees. “This is an emergency.â€

Even with an interpreter, it was hard to understand the problem.

A larger water plant outside the neighborhood stopped receiving electricity, taxing the smaller plant’s production, the manager explained. Only one of his three pumps was working, and he had been trying to fix it for a week.

The small plant has only one mechanic, who emerged from an air-conditioned office in slacks without sweat stains in the midst of the conversation.

“A week,†Cherry, 32, of Bolivar, Tenn., said, growing more frustrated. “This is an emergency,†he repeated. “Who have you called?â€

The water manager said he had written a letter.

These are the kinds of emergencies that Battery A, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery now faces in Qadisiyah and Janayan, a smaller slice of land just west of the Tigris River that was once a honeymoon resort.

Cherry, the new battery commander, and soldiers have been patrolling the area for more than a month.

The violence in the area has calmed in recent weeks.

But the tensions between the Sunni neighborhood — once filled with Baath Party elite who worked in the nearby government buildings — and the new Shiite-dominated central government remain. As with the water shortage, it’s hard to know how far those tensions extend, said Cherry and his boss, Lt. Col. Mike Tarsa, the 3rd Battalion commander.

“They were having a hard time getting a voice,†Cherry said of the neighborhood since the invasion. “They weren’t getting anywhere through their government.â€

The water shortage is only one example.

The neighborhood’s Yarmouk Hospital remains a target of violence, Tarsa said, in part because Sunni patients seek care there. The care it can provide is terribly limited, adding another source of pain.

The facility gets about an hour of electricity a day. It has a no hazardous-materials incinerator. The beds in critical-care units were full on Sunday, with patients separated by curtains and no intravenous machines in sight.

The hospital’s morgue is in its backyard, and on Sunday morning, four bloody bodies lay partially covered with sheets in the baking sun.

When electricity or water goes missing in the area, it’s hard to know if it’s because of a larger infrastructure problem or because someone flipped a switch, Cherry said. It could be a result of violence from Sadr City, just across the river. It could be spite, the officers said.

Either way, it’s Cherry’s job to figure out how to alleviate the problems. He and the battery have had some success so far.

They’ve added five or six new transformers to utility poles in the main market, which has seen business rise in recent days. They’ve put up barriers to protect shoppers and merchants from car bombs. A man bricking his storefront said he planned to open an ice cream shop.

There’s been success at nearby schools as well. One elementary school near the water plant has been newly painted. There is a stockroom of new furniture, rugs and more than $20,000 in computer equipment in boxes awaiting next fall.

Tarsa, 42, of Parker Heights, Texas, was meeting with the hospital’s leaders this week to prioritize projects, which like the school equipment, he can fund. First on the list is a refrigerator for the morgue, he said.

Two hours later, Cherry’s interpreter received a call on his cell phone. After the surprise visit by the Army captain, the water in the neighborhood was back on.

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