IRAQ: RTI Leads Cleanup Effort

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WASHINGTON -- When Maj. Steven Warren's Army brigade arrived in Baqubah, capital of Iraq's Diyala province 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, years of trash lay piled by the roadside.

It was waist-high in some places -- a constant reminder of the local government's failure to take care of citizens' basic needs.

As local Iraqis complained during the daily call-in radio show "Good Morning Orange City" -- a name left over from when the region overflowed with orange groves -- the message of government failure to provide routine services was reinforced.

Trash piles are a lot more than ugly or unsanitary. Insurgents also like to use them to hide explosives targeting U.S. troops on patrol.

Warren, a 39-year-old staff officer for the 42nd ID Task Force Liberty of the 3rd Infantry Division, realized that picking up the trash would be a quick and easy way to restore Iraqis' pride in their city and prevent some troop injuries.

"Doing a province-wide clean-up, you buy a couple of garbage trucks, you hire a bunch of dudes, you identify one spot to become the landfill and you dig in," Warren said in a phone interview from Iraq. "We really think we got some good results. It's important that Iraqis see their lives changing, and it was such an easy one [to do]."

Rebuilding government

In April 2003, Ron Johnson, Durham-based RTI International's senior vice president for international development, touched down as one of the first civilians on the ground in Iraq.

Johnson toured the country with an armed escort to begin identifying challenges and lay the foundation for what ultimately would be $241 million in contracts to establish local governments, employing nearly 3,000 Iraqis and 230 Americans at the height of the project.

The United States Agency for International Development, an independent agency that provides global development assistance in support of U.S. foreign policy goals, funded the original RTI contract, which ended in May.

RTI now has entered phase two of rebuilding local Iraqi governments under a two-year, $180 million contract.

When the former regime was in control, power was centralized in Baghdad. So one focus of RTI's project is teaching local officials to be accountable to the citizens they represent and making it easy for people to understand how local agencies, such as the water department, operate.

And in Wasit province, a predominately Shia area southeast of Baghdad, water quality was one of the problems Maj. Mark Metzger, 34, of the Army's 96th Civil Affairs Battalion based at Fort Bragg, found that needed fixing.

Billions invested

When the soldiers arrived in the city of Al-Kut last fall, they discovered the sewage and water treatment facilities in shambles. Raw waste was being dumped directly into the city's river -- also the sole source of drinking water.

By the time the unit left Iraq this summer, the soldiers had helped to build a sewage treatment and a water purification plant.

Metzger's unit spent $2.1 million on projects throughout the province, ranging from building health clinics to schools.

The U.S. government has allocated more than $18 billion for Iraq reconstruction. About $13 billion is managed by the Defense Department and the other $5.4 billion is managed by the State Department and USAID, according to an e-mail from Howard Stickley. He is director of business management for the Army Corps of Engineers in the Gulf region.

Of the $13 billion under Defense control, 98 percent has been committed to specific projects. Contracts make up $10.4 billion; $6.7 billion has been spent.

Now the U.S. government is reorganizing the many participants in the reconstruction puzzle in the form of Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad recently announced the start of the third team in Ta'min province, which joins two others begun in Ninewah (Mosul) and Babil (Al-Hillah) provinces in November. Plans are afoot to start three or four more teams in January.

A team effort

The ultimate goal is to have one in each of Iraq's 15 provinces and one in the Kurdish region, said Ambassador Daniel Speckhard, director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office.

The goal of the reconstruction teams is to create better coordination between the military and civilian reconstruction efforts by combining the different organizations under one command.

The teams will be led by a civilian who will coordinate military efforts with a lieutenant colonel. Depending on the needs of the area, each team will have between 100 to 175 people, including a strong defense capability, a U.S. official in Baghdad said.

With talk of troop pullout gaining momentum in Washington, the official would not give specific dates for completion of the reconstruction teams' work in Iraq. But the official did say they were designed to be in the country for "a couple of years."

Rick Barton, co-director of the post-conflict reconstruction project for the Center for Strategic and International Studies -- a Washington-based research organization that analyzes foreign policy issues -- said one of the positives of the teams is their integrated approach to rebuilding countries. But, he added, some problems do exist.

Barton said the teams have a high overhead cost because of the large military component. Some human rights groups worry about the military blurring the line between nation building and soldiering.

But he did say that reconstruction teams traditionally work best in areas where security is a concern and that those chosen "are good places because they are physically still hazardous and you want to do something there to create some good will."

Citizens feel closer to local governments and local businesses, which reconstruction teams try to involve in rebuilding efforts, Speckhard said.

Developing economy

The reconstruction team in Kirkuk has a total budget of more than $495 million, with 53 percent slated to rebuild the electricity infrastructure, according to embassy documents. Of this total, $174 million already has been spent and $297 million in projects are under way.

And on the ground in Kirkuk, reconstruction is advancing.

The region is strategically important, producing about 40 percent of Iraq's oil. It's also ethnically diverse, with a long history of Iraq's different tribal and ethnic groups vying for control.

RTI has been in the area working to develop local economic councils since first entering the country. Because Kirkuk is oil-rich, it has the potential to attract outside investors. That makes local economic development groups even more important in achieving growth, according to company documents.

RTI's Johnson said the local economic councils in Kirkuk are more concerned with "what affects them on a daily basis" than fighting about ethnic differences. The next phase of RTI's project will be to continue helping local councils move toward a stable, open-market economy.


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