By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 26, 2009 - Greatly reduced violence in Iraq over the past year has aided in the completion of a multitude of reconstruction projects that benefit the Iraqi people, a senior U.S. military officer posted there said yesterday. Five years ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Gulf Region Division "was tasked with overseeing a great deal of the reconstruction effort in Iraq," Army Maj. Gen. Michael R. Eyre, the GRD's commanding general, told reporters during a news conference held in the organization's Baghdad headquarters.
The GRD in Iraq, Eyre said, consists of more than 600 federal civilian employees and servicemembers, plus thousands of contractors. The organization also includes more than 400 Iraqi employees, he said.
GRD-managed construction projects employ 25,000 to 30,000 Iraqis daily, Eyre said, noting that nearly 75 percent of his organization's active contracts are awarded to Iraqi businesses.
Eyre said he is "humbled and amazed" by the "remarkable" progress that has been achieved along the reconstruction front in Iraq since he took command of the division in October 2008. Such projects, he said, include new or renovated schools, health clinics and hospitals, new or upgraded water treatment and power plants and more.
"The greatly improved security situation has really allowed the reconstruction progress to advance," Eyre said, "and we are turning projects over to the government of Iraq every week."
Recent surveys demonstrate that most Iraqis' No. 1 concern today is obtaining essential services, Eyre said. In the past, he noted, Iraqi citizens' top concern was security.
"We continue to work nonstop with our Iraqi partners to improve the quality of life for all Iraqis," Eyre said. More than 4,400 Iraq reconstruction projects valued at nearly $7 billion have been completed since January 2004, he said.
Meanwhile, the GRD continues to partner and coordinate with senior Iraqi government officials, Eyre said, to "ensure that everything we do is building toward completed projects that meet the needs of the people of Iraq." In this endeavor, he added, the Iraqi government is in the lead, while the GRD takes a supporting role.
The GRD's reconstruction projects are providing Iraqis essential services such as energy, water, education, security and health care facilities and transportation, said Richard A. Hancock, the GRD's director of programs, who accompanied Eyre at the news conference.
Just last week, Hancock said, a new water treatment plant was opened that has the capability to provide clean drinking water for more than 190,000 residents of Baghdad's Sadr City district.
The Sadr City water treatment plant is among more than 800 water-supply projects that have been completed throughout Iraq, Hancock said. These projects, he said, "have directly impacted the quality of life, health and well-being for more than 5 million people."
Meanwhile, Hancock said, a soon-to-be-completed expansion of the electrical power plant at Qudas, north of Baghdad, will have the capacity to add 180 megawatts of electricity to Iraq's power grid.
"These added megawatts are equivalent to enough power for 180,000 homes," Hancock said, noting that the Iraqis will take over management of the plant this spring.
The GRD also has turned over 132 primary health clinics and 41 hospitals to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, Hancock said.
"These hospitals and clinics provide modern facilities for the treatment of millions of patients in all parts of the country," Hancock said, while "ensuring a clean and modern workspace" for health care workers.
To attract top-notch physicians, Hancock said, many of the larger health care facilities offer off-site housing for doctors.
It's also important, he said, to acknowledge the key role that education plays in Iraq's future.
"We have built or renovated more than 1,100 schools," Hancock said, that provide Iraqi children "with the kind of quality facilities they deserve."
Other reconstruction efforts, Hancock said, are geared toward adult education needs, such as the dormitory, classroom and auditorium renovation projects now under way at a 1,400-student vocational school in Iskandaria, south of Baghdad.
"One of the best parts of that school," Hancock said, "is that as students graduate we are putting many of them right to work on the construction site, expanding the school that they just graduated from [and] using the skills they just learned."