War on Terrorism

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On the Ground: Americans Witness Improvements in Iraq

American Forces Press Service

Jan. 28, 2009 - U.S. servicemembers and civilians are seeing the fruits of their labor in Iraq where, increasingly, they are celebrating completed projects and humanitarian efforts that build both infrastructure and relationships. The most recent examples of progress came this week when Americans took part in the completion of a culvert that bridged a gap, both natural and cultural, between Sunni Arabs and Turkmen and the opening of a market that will help rural Iraqis and Americans who work there.

The culvert was completed over the Tigris River in the village of Bushariyah, near Tikrit in Kirkuk province. For years, the village was divided, with Sunni Arabs on one side of the river and Turkmen families on the other.

"The culvert now connects the Sunni Arabs and the Turkmen who live within the village," said Army Capt. Marlen Ramirez, team leader of Detachment 1, Company B, 490th Civil Affairs Battalion, which assisted with the culvert that was dedicated Jan. 26.

Local Iraqi security forces came up with the idea for the culvert, which is like a dam that allows people to drive across while water passes through below. It was funded by Iraqis and built in 90 days.

"The [Iraqi police and Iraqi army] will now be able to conduct their missions easily without having to go all the way around from one side of the village to the other," Ramirez said.

As important, Ramirez said, the culvert allows residents on both sides of the river, who have been in conflict for years, to build stronger relationships.

"The connection between the two ethnicities in Bushariyah Village is now there, so it is up to them to make it work," he said.

In the market project, members of the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division attended a Jan. 23 ceremony with Iraqi businessmen and others to mark the opening of the new "Oasis Market" on Contingency Operating Base Adder in Iraq.

The market is part of the Iraqi-based Industrial Zone program, or I-BIZ, which started in October to help Iraqi businesses develop within the security of a military installation. It is designed to spark the local economy in Dhi Qar province, a rural area southeast of Nasiriyah.

The Oasis Market will cater to U.S. military and civilian customers who can purchase TVs and DVDs, among other things.

"The contract that we have with the Americans saves us money," said Yassir Ahmed, an Oasis salesman who previously leased land from an Iraqi contractor. "We are now able to use the extra money to provide a better quality of product for the soldiers that shop here."

The I-BIZ program also helps the local economy through income, employment opportunities and training. It aims to enable self-sustaining Iraqi-owned companies, increase employment in the Dhi Qar province and grow the working-class society in southern Iraq.

Army Lt. Col. Timothy Norton, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, attended the ceremony to show his support for the Iraqi contractors.

"It helps [the brigade] to help these Iraqi businessmen gain economic stability," Norton explained. "Simple things like this will lead to the Iraqis providing sustainment for this base long after we have gone home."

On the humanitarian front, some Army Corps of Engineers workers distributed more than 500 blankets to needy children in the Tallil area Jan. 22.

"We saw that children in many areas lacked sufficient means to stay warm," said Army Sgt. Danielle Colson, who helped organize the drive among American servicemembers and civilian workers. "We agreed that if there was any way we could help out, we would. Just by reaching out in a little way, we were confident we could make a difference."

(Compiled from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division, 1st Cavalry Division and Multinational Division North news releases.)

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