American Forces Press Service
Aug. 29, 2007 - Officials in Iraq's Kirkuk province are stepping up to invest more Iraqi money for funding reconstruction projects designed to provide a better future for residents, a U.S. State Department official said today. "We work very closely with the local government on their budget execution, and this is the spending of Iraqi dinars, not U.S. dollars, supporting projects all over the province," Howard Keegan, the leader for the provincial reconstruction team in Kirkuk province, told Internet reporters and "bloggers" during a conference call from Iraq.
In addition, the governor of Kirkuk province "is reviewing every project before the contract is signed to ensure integrity," Keegan said. "We're spending very few U.S. dollars here in our effort compared to what the Iraqi government is spending."
More than 25 provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq are helping the country's 18 provincial governors deliver essential services to their citizens as part of efforts to reconstitute an economic and political infrastructure that for decades was manipulated to serve the needs of Saddam Hussein.
Kirkuk "was a province that was decimated by Saddam Hussein in his attempts to eliminate the Kurdish population" that live in the region, Keegan explained. The province's other large ethnic groups include Arabs and Turkmen.
Thanks to Saddam, Kirkuk today has a decrepit infrastructure that's gradually being repaired and upgraded by determined Iraqi authorities with U.S. and coalition assistance, Keegan said.
"We've got a city that's got over a million people, and there is no real sewage system, and the water system is vastly overloaded, along with the electrical grid," Keegan said. "It's in pretty bad shape, so we've got quite a bit of work to do on that."
Consequently, water and electricity "are still a premium" in Kirkuk province, Keegan said, noting that the province averages between four and eight hours of water and electric service per day.
However, things are looking up in the province, Keegan said. A U.N.-provided trash-collection system is slated to be turned over to Iraqis in January or February, he said. Also, there's an influx of new industries into Kirkuk province, he continued, such as a tire factory, a sunflower processing plant and oil field services businesses.
Kirkuk province is a major oil producer in Iraq and there've been recent discussions among Iraqi officials about boosting the number of petroleum refineries in the area, Keegan said.
A new criminal justice trial courthouse, women's vocational center and other new services have recently opened, Keegan reported. And prison and jail guards who work in the province are receiving intensive training about humane treatment of prisoners, he added, noting such training was previously nonexistent in Iraq.
Disagreements occurring among Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs living in the region are addressed by Iraqi and coalition officials, Keegan observed, noting all groups are urged to negotiate and work together to solve their issues.
Keegan predicted that "a true unity government" espousing power-sharing and cooperation among all ethnic groups will soon emerge in Kirkuk province.
Iraqis have rapidly moved from living under a brutal dictatorship to a democracy, Keegan said. Such a change "would be exceptionally difficult for any group of people," he said.
Yet, Iraqis are making great strides in adopting democracy and rebuilding their country, Keegan said.
Meanwhile, insurgents fleeing the effects of surge operations in and around Baghdad are showing up in Kirkuk province, Keegan said, noting the terrorists are believed to have conducted several recent bombings in Kirkuk city. "And, that's a fairly new development to the security situation here," Keegan said.
U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces are picking up the pace to quell the violence, he said.
Kirkuk province's people greatly appreciate the United States' assistance, but many worry U.S. troops could leave before the job is complete, Keegan said. "I fear that if we have to leave our mission before it is ready, it'll be devastating for the people here," he said.
He said Iraqis of all ethnic groups he has spoken with use one word to describe that scenario. "That word is 'chaos,'" Keegan said, adding he hopes the American people "can maintain patience to let us finish doing our job" in Iraq.