By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 4, 2007 - Iraqis are taking solid steps toward self-sufficiency in Fallujah, Iraq, the leader of a provincial reconstruction team embedded with U.S. troops there said today. "(Iraqis) are very entrepreneurial; they are very creative," Stephen Fakan told online journalists and "bloggers" during a conference call from Iraq. "If you give them a problem and you turn them loose on it, they can turn up with some very creative solutions."
Fakan and his 14-member team were deployed to Anbar province in April to help leaders in the region develop a framework within which they can eventually thrive without coalition assistance. Dozens of such embedded provincial reconstruction teams are working throughout Iraq.
"We try to come up with Iraqi solutions for Iraqi problems," Fakan said.
EPRT members encourage government, business, tribal and religious leaders in the region to work together and solve common problems, Fakan explained.
"The Fallujah district government and many of the sub-districts, we call them municipal governments, are now meeting, and formal structures are replacing an initial free-for-all atmosphere," he said. "They've begun to move their focuses from personal agendas and complaints to those of providing essential services and other infrastructure issues facing their constituencies."
Essential services include clean drinking water, something in scarce supply after heavy combat destroyed many pipes and storm drains in the area, Fakan said. While the long-term solution to rebuild such infrastructure will take a lot of time, money and labor, he explained, a short-term solution to that particular problem came out of the blue.
"An anonymous benefactor who read one of our reports and heard about the water-purification issues we have actually contacted a private company in the states and ordered $1 million worth of portable water treatment plants that are run off of solar power for us to distribute in our area," Fakan said.
A new "Keep Fallujah Beautiful" campaign is encouraging citizens to throw trash in appropriate receptacles, Fakan explained, and is rehabbing area soccer fields badly damaged during the war.
"This project will have an immediate impact on the city's youth and provide a safe area to play, as well as a place where neighbors and families can gather and relax," he said.
Fakan also pointed out other projects, such as a newly constructed Fallujah general hospital and the creation of a chamber of commerce, a farmers federation and a soon-to-open small business-development center that will begin to process more than 400 grant applications submitted by Iraqi citizens seeking to run their own companies.
"The small business enterprises, the ones that employ 10 or 20 or 30 people, are the ones that are going to be the backbone of the economic development of this area," he said.
For Iraqi women in the area who have lost husbands or older sons, often the family's sole source of income, Fakan's team helped distribute money from a "quick reaction fund" that has allowed the women to open small businesses such as sewing shops, bakeries and toy stores.
"We're trying to encourage the Iraqis to begin to buy Iraqi products when and where possible," he said.
Other projects in the works include wind, solar and micro hydro projects that can provide electricity to remote villages and power irrigation pumps, Fakan said. With that increased pump power, he explained, farmers will be able to irrigate 16,000 acres of land, reclaiming 7,000 acres that turned into desert while neglected during protracted fighting in Anbar.
"The best part of it is, it's a solution designed by Iraqis for Iraqis," Fakan said. "They get the process."
(David Mays works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)