By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 9, 2007 - Security improvements in Fallujah, Iraq, are allowing coalition forces and Iraqis to reinforce success, the city's provincial reconstruction team leader said today. A year ago, Fallujah was a battlefield between al Qaeda and coalition forces. Today it is recovering, and local Iraqi leaders are setting the pace of that recovery, said Stephen G. Fakan, leader of the provincial reconstruction team in the Anbar province city.
"We have to find Iraqi solutions to Iraqi problems," Fakan said during a conference call with defense reporters. His 14-member team works hand in hand with local Iraqis and members of Regimental Combat Team 6 to improve long-term prospects of the city and its environs.
The area's 800,000 people are mostly centered on the Euphrates River, and the security situation there has improved. "There are still combat operations in area, but not nearly frequent as when we got here in April," Fakan said.
This has allowed the team to go outside the wire and do what they need to do: interface with the Iraqi population and help build the government and the business infrastructure of the region. Fakan said the goal is for the coalition to leave and for Iraqis to sustain the structure of government and the idea of "working with each other that everyone buys into."
The team works with tribal leaders and sheikhs, local government leaders, civil affairs professionals with RCT 6, businessmen and other Iraqi citizens.
The team is now working to kick-start the economy and is working with state-owned enterprises. In one sign of progress, local workers have turned a former artillery factory into a civilian machine shop, Fakan said. The Iraqi government will build a dedicated power plant for the factory, and the team is getting power generating capabilities to the site as a bridge until the powerhouse comes on line. The factory now employs 600 people and could employ up to 4,000.
In other examples of progress, a brick factory near the city that employs 500 people is going full speed, and the team would like to see a state-of-the-art cement factory come on line.
The Euphrates River also provides life and livelihood for the people of the province, and the PRT members are working with local officials to irrigate 16,000 acres of farmland and reclaim another 7,000 acres.
Improvements in local governments "turned government on its head here," Fakan said. Under Saddam Hussein's regime, the Iraqi government was very much top down, with all decisions made in Baghdad and then communicated to local governments. "Now the people in the towns and cities are putting together budgets and proposals" that then go to the district councils, provincial councils and ultimately to the federal government, Fakan said.
Tribes of the area have bought into the idea of the coalition as an ally against al Qaeda, and most of the people in the region follow tribal leaders' orders, Fakan said. He said the team is trying to convince the people that "even though it is a tribal culture, there is still room for a tribal culture and civil governance."
He said his group will continue to work with local Iraqi leaders and with military leaders, as a bridge for both cultures.