By Army Sgt. 1st Class Brent Williams
Special to American Forces Press Service
Jan. 26, 2009 - U.S. soldiers and Iraqi security forces joined local civic leaders Jan. 21 to commemorate the opening of the Doura Public Library, christening a cultural and educational landmark for the residents of southern Baghdad's Rashid district. The library, capable of housing about 10,000 books and more than a dozen personal computers for public use, is an indicator of Iraq's growing emphasis on education, Zahra Hussein, media supervisor for the library, said.
Hussein, an active volunteer for schools in the area, said she hopes the library will serve as one of many educational institutions created to foster the spirit of civilization and intellectualism in Baghdad and Iraq.
"The library has been opened today with the support and all of the good efforts [of the people] in order to promote the idea of reopening public libraries in Baghdad," she said.
Hashim Dahash, Rashid District Council deputy chairman, recalled the library's destruction due to past violence. "Books were scattered all over the floor," he said.
In conjunction of the opening of the Doura Public Library, Dahash said he hopes Jan. 21 will become Rashid district's official "Reading Day" for future generations of Iraqis.
"This [library] is considered as proof of security and stability, helping the people to return to their lives normally, especially the educational life," he said.
The library project came about when local leaders asked Army Col. Ted Martin, commander of the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, for help creating a new cultural center in Rashid district, Yaqoub al-Bakhaty, Rashid district council chairman, said. The project included a renovation of the local community building and the restoration of books and services in Doura.
"Iraq is developing every day, and this library is part of this civilization's development as a result of security provided by the Iraqi forces supported by the Americans," Bakhaty said. "This accomplishment is a result of neighborhood stability combined with the efforts of the Doura residents."
Army Staff Sgt. Aja Andreu, civil affairs team leader assigned to the 404th Civil Affairs Battalion's Company D, out of Fort Dix, N.J., served as the project manager and conducted the initial assessment for the renovation.
According to regulations, the brigade commander can use military funds only to renovate the structural parts of the building and cannot buy books or restore the educational center's services, Andreu, who hails from North Plainfield, N.J., said.
Working with the 1st Brigade Combat Team's embedded provincial reconstruction team, the U.S. State Department and Friends of the Library, a nongovernmental organization, Andreu hired a local Iraqi contractor to refurbish the building, acquired furniture from a local carpenter and restored a children's room and a computer room with 15 personal computers with desktop monitors and Internet service. She also acquired a generator for the library.
Through the nongovernmental organization, they acquired the library's educational materials for public use, Andreu said. Nearly 1,000 children books and more than 150 adult education books are on back order to complete the project.
"I would like to thank everybody who helped make this happen," Andreu said. "It is a special day for me. This has been a very hard project, and it has taken a lot of work by both the military and the residents of Doura."
Andreu said she hopes the library soon will become a public institution for the benefit of all Rashid's citizens.
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Brent Williams serves in the 4th Infantry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)