By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 19, 2008 - Noting that increasing employment, rebuilding infrastructure and providing basic services are tactics in the war on terror, coalition and Iraqi officials today discussed the pace of civil-military rebuilding in Baghdad's Sadr City district today. Iraqi spokesman Tahseen al-Sheikhly said the government has been putting billions of dinars into reconstructing the Shiite section of the Iraqi capital.
Sadr City – once named Saddam City – holds about 3 million of Baghdad's citizens. Virtually ignored under the former regime, the area has severe infrastructure problems and a very high unemployment rate. The city was the scene of heavy fighting in April 2004 and earlier this year. Now, the security situation in the area has improved, and Iraqi and coalition projects are being built.
"It is clear to the Iraqi citizens that there is a very big movement in the Iraqi services sector," Sheikhly said through a translator during a news conference in Baghdad. "This movement has been targeted by the citizens directly."
The Iraqi people will see "touchable" results from projects under way or scheduled, Sheikhly said. The plans will address "the bad situations in the area and rescue the citizens from the gangs," he added.
Reconstruction planning and execution has increased because the improved security is "fostering political and economic development, and all are encouraged by the growing return to normalcy," coalition spokesman Army Brig. Gen. Dave Perkins said.
In Sadr City, civil-military projects are important part of the work coalition forces do in partnership with the government of Iraq, the general said. Coalition forces have a civil-military budget of $56 million for the area.
"We have more than 200 ongoing projects that positively affect the residents in Sadr City," he said. "The purpose of these projects is to improve everyday life in these neighborhoods."
Local citizens perform the work, and Iraqi contractors are bidding on contracts. A key part of reconstruction in Sadr City is a district advisory council that meets on a regular basis with members of the Iraqi government, Iraqi police officials, local community leaders and military officials from Multinational Division Baghdad to prioritize the projects.
The civil-military projects have pumped $12 million through the Iraqi Assistance Center, which includes micro-grants to local businessmen, which have helped to jump-start the local economy, Perkins said.
School rehabilitation is an important part of the effort. Illegal militias took over many of the schools during the fighting earlier this year. Even as the fighting was dying down in May, experts were in the neighborhoods seeing what needed to be done. More than 22 schools have been rehabilitated, and students are in classes. The Iraqi government is buying 10,000 computers for the schools in the area.
Economically, the Jamilah Market – the largest market in Baghdad – is a lynchpin for the city.
"The market employs 30 percent of the citizens of Sadr City," Perkins said. "This market area continues to improve daily because of the micro-loans provided through the assistance and reconstruction office located at the Joint Security Station Sadr City." In addition, Iraq's Electricity Ministry is installing generators that will provide the Jamilah neighborhood four megawatts of electricity.
The Iraqi government also is moving forward with projects, Sheikhly said. Billions of dinars are going to establish a housing community near Sadr City. The government spokesman said this should alleviate much of the overcrowding in the area. The government also has projects to rehabilitate the Sadr General Hospital, establish dental clinics and build a blood bank for the area. The local councils are getting money to pave the streets, build parks and establish sports clubs.
All told, the Iraqi government is providing 183 billion Iraqi dinars – about $156 million -- to the effort.
"We have similar actions going on in Diyala, Ninevah and other provinces in Iraq," Sheikhly said. Reconstruction was once limited to certain areas in Baghdad, but "now it is everywhere – major projects going on everywhere," Sheikhly said. "We hope it will succeed and the right path and serve the citizens of Baghdad and Iraq in general."