Can Fallujah be rebuilt?
In this Iraqi town, US faces challenges in creating jobs and attracting investment.
Dump trucks ply the roads, hauling away debris from wrecked homes. Backhoes churn the earth, laying new service lines. And mountains of bricks and buckets of paint are slowly turning war-ravaged Fallujah into a functional city again.Skip to next paragraph
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For US forces in Iraq, few challenges are as daunting - or perhaps as important - as the attempt to transform this bitter Sunni city into a model for counter-insurgency success.
But while Fallujah has become the modern example of the Vietnam-era dictum of having to "destroy a village to save it" - virtually all of its 50,000 structures were damaged in last November's offensive - today it is Iraq's largest construction site.
And it's not just repairing the physical damage. US Marines are taking a far more radical approach by trying to rebuild the economy, attract investment, and create jobs.
"The one lesson we've learned is that we can't do it," says Maj. Scott McFadden, at the Civil-Military Operations Center (CMOC) in downtown Fallujah, which doubles as a fortified town hall.
"We as Americans could easily rebuild the industrial sector from the ground up, but you would have no Iraqi buy-in, and [it] would remain vacant," says Major McFadden, from Monee, Ill. "The buzzword is 'cascade effect,' and it's starting to come together.... Fallujans are doing it on their own."
But not all are impressed, with either the Marine efforts or lack of support from the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, which has been tardy with promised compensation.
"It is [going] so, so slowly, it's a big problem here because no one takes rebuilding seriously," says Obaied Ameen Ahmad, head of the Fallujah office of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.
"If you rebuild the town, people will feel safe. But now the trash is more than the flowers - we need to look where the flowers are, to smell their perfume," says Mr. Ahmad. "The people here are suffering so much, from both [insurgents and Americans].... Many are still outside the city, without money to rebuild [or] to pay school fees."
Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi - who publicly signed off on the US attack of Fallujah - estimated $250 million in damages, and his government paid 40 percent of that. As part of that handout, marines last week delivered 10 billion Iraqi dinar from the Iraqi Central Bank.
But the interim government has paid nothing more to the 60 percent of 300,000 Fallujans who have returned; and none of the first tranche of cash covers wrecked businesses.
To fill in the gap, Capt. Scott Walton, the Fallujah team leader from the 6th Civil Affairs Group, has a $100,000 purse, and an ever-changing list of projects: competitive bids to build a new bank, rebuilding the local veterinary and agriculture departments and mayor's office, and organizing a fuel distribution system.
Fallujah "is one example of how we are going to stumble ourselves to success," says Captain Walton, from Dallas. "I want to be the guy who comes in at the three-yard line, and you need me to carry the ball across - after the Iraqis have carried it 97 yards."