By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 29, 2008 - The general who leads what he calls "an engineer fight" in Baghdad credits attention to sanitation and reconstruction of essential services with creating a dramatic turnaround that's having a ripple effect throughout Iraq. "It doesn't matter if you are in direct support of lethal operations or on the nonlethal side, it is almost always an engineer leading on both sides of the house right now," Army Brig Gen. Jeffrey Talley, engineer for Multinational Division Baghdad, told American Forces Press Service by phone from his headquarters.
A reservist who in civilian life is an engineering professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, Talley said he's seen firsthand the big changes his engineers have helped bring about in providing force protection for warfighters and quality-of-life improvements for Iraqis.
"It's hard not to win-win in engineering," he said. "When I come into a battle space, the [Iraqi] government and the people know that my reason for being there is to find [improvised explosive devices] and neutralize them before they kill or hurt people, or to rebuild roads, schools, clinics, to improve water, wastewater or sewage."
Even people skeptical of coalition forces or the Iraqi government begin to come around when they see the changes. "It's pretty hard, if you do enough of these kinds of things for them, for them not to eventually acknowledge that this is a good thing for their community," Talley said.
Nowhere is that progress more evident than in Sadr City, which Talley calls one of the 926th Engineer Brigade's biggest success stories since its arrival in Iraq last spring.
"Sadr City for the last 30 years was considered the most desperate and dangerous part of Iraq. [Former Iraqi dictator] Saddam Hussein wouldn't even send his own forces into Sadr City," he said. As a result, the city "became a haven for bad guys," including militias and terrorist organizations that operated unfettered.
Task Force Gold, a unit stood up in May under Talley's command, set out to reverse three decades of neglect and lawlessness. "The thought was, if we can win Sadr City, we will win Baghdad, and we will win Iraq," Talley said.
Focused on that goal, Talley's soldiers rolled up their sleeves to clear the streets of debris, rubble and raw sewage. They worked with Iraqi contractors to rebuild schools and medical clinics, generate electricity and restore public areas.
"What you are doing is showing residents of Sadr City what life looks like," Talley said. "You are showing them there is another option besides the militia. They can choose to start a business, improve their community, support the government of Iraq ... and pick a different way of living ... that is better for them and your family."
Sadr City's residents took notice. With newfound pride in their community, an improved economy and reduced violence, they started reporting the whereabouts of militia members and their weapons caches.
"People who historically were neutral or anti-coalition forces started to see that maybe this way ahead is a positive one," Talley said. "They started saying 'no' to the militia and 'yes' to progress and to peace."
The efforts, he said, transformed a "very vicious, dangerous combat zone" to a thriving city with bustling markets and children playing in the parks.
"It is just phenomenal, and whether you are an American, a Westerner or an Iraqi, most people can't believe it," he said. "They just shake their heads in disbelief at the positive changes that have occurred. ... And those changes have happened because of Task Force Gold."
Talley has strict criteria for what projects U.S. taxpayer dollars will fund. Projects must link directly to security improvements, repair damage coalition forces caused during combat or represent a partnership with the Iraqi government.
"We don't just spend money to rebuild infrastructure because it is falling apart or because Saddam Hussein ignored it," Talley said. "We want to make sure ... we are using the money as a weapon system, in a way that supports the lethal fight of the brigade combat team.
"The whole purpose is to establish sustainable security and increase self-reliance of the people and government of Iraq," he said.