By Sgt. Sara Moore, USA
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 14, 2008 - As security improves throughout Iraq, coalition forces have made significant progress rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure and economy, a U.S. military spokesman there said yesterday. Reconstruction always has been a focus of the coalition, but recent improvements in security have given coalition forces even more opportunities to repair facilities that have fallen into disrepair or have been destroyed by terrorists, build new facilities and other critical infrastructure, and assist Iraqis in gaining self-sufficiency, Navy Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, told reporters in Iraq.
Smith cited several examples of reconstruction throughout Iraq, including:
-- The renovation of the Ramana municipal government building in Anbar province after it was destroyed by a suicide bomber in July 2007. Coalition forces partnered with local Iraqi contractors to renovate the building so that the local government could return to work.
-- The repair of a water treatment facility northwest of Fallujah that now provides clean water for about 6,000 Iraqis.
-- The resurgence of a market in Yusifiyah that was essentially deserted before Iraqi and coalition forces secured the area in October. The marketplace was cleaned up, shops were repaired and the market came back to life. Shoppers from outside Yusifiyah now come to the market, new shops have opened, and the market gets 18 to 20 hours of electricity a day.
-- The construction of a bridge across the canal between Abu Ghraib and the Sheha market, west of Taji. Tribal leaders, other local leaders, and coalition forces combined resources to build this bridge, which gives citizens access to the Sheha market.
-- The quick construction of a temporary bridge span over the Grand Canal near Taji, where two critical bridges were destroyed by a 2,000-pound car bomb in August.
Smith also highlighted grant programs that have benefitted local Iraqi entrepreneurs, including a young man who opened a market near his father's house and another who opened an automobile air-conditioning repair shop.
Also on the economic front, the United States Agency for International Development is providing microfinance loans to Iraqi entrepreneurs, Denise Herbol, deputy director of USAID, said at the news conference. USAID also is partnering with the coalition in Anbar province to create locally owned microfinance operations that are consistent with Islamic principles, she said.
"One of the things I'm most touched by during my time here is our work with ambitious Iraqi entrepreneurs, stationed throughout the country, who recognize the potential for growth in their individual communities," Herbol said. "These individuals have taken advantage of the opportunity that our programs can provide to improve the lives of their families and others in the community."
The program in Anbar has generated nearly $530,000 in loans to entrepreneurs, with 139 loans totaling $334,000 distributed in Al Qaim, 18 loans totaling nearly $47,000 in Ramadi, and 72 loans totaling $148,000 in Fallujah, Herbol said.
A notable achievement in Fallujah was the Dec. 12 opening of the Fallujah Business Center, which houses the Fallujah Chamber of Commerce and new public radio station, as well as USAID's partners, including the microfinance program, Herbol said. She said the business center "is becoming the focal point for the city's business community and civil society members to come together to work, exchange ideas and advance the economic growth which continues to advance in Fallujah."
Herbol cited several examples of Iraqi businesses created through the microfinance program, such as a bus driving service for schoolchildren in Fallujah, a juice factory in Baghdad that has created 24 full-time jobs for Iraqis, and a woman who grew a home-based business into a mini market that sells clothing and baked goods.
"I feel privileged to work alongside the dedicated, intelligent and brave Iraqis, Americans and members of the global community in the pursuit of a peaceful and democratic future for Iraq," Herbol said. "That future is here today, and it is our hope that USAID's development and assistance programs will continue to assist in building the foundation vital to Iraq's stability and long-term prosperity and growth."