In Iraq's Diyala Province, US forces anticipate exit
The American military is handing over control of projects in the troubled province ahead of a US-Iraqi security pact that could reduce the US footprint next year.
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But Balad Ruz is also a frequent stop for Schlicher and his civil affairs team. During a recent visit, he was impressed to find Mayor Mohammed Marouf al-Hussein meeting with local irrigation officials about a project to cope with years of drought. Days before, they went with Iraqi police to inspect pipes.Skip to next paragraph
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"This is good news," says Schlicher, as he steps into the meeting in the mayor's office. "It's Iraqis finding solutions to Iraqi problems. Six months ago, it would not be happening."
Discussion ensues about the irrigation options, the cost of a project with advanced American-made equipment, and the price paid by farmers for such help during the Saddam Hussein-era.
"We've got to stop thinking of next week, but the next year or two, because every project the [US-led] coalition has started, the government has taken over," says Schlicher.
But the provincial government has problems, and insecurity has prevented Diyala Province from spending all its $140 million budget for three years in a row.
"The things that are announced are one thing, and what happens is something else," says Mayor Hussein.
"It is amazing," agrees Schlicher, "how reality gets changed in that 1-1/2 hours it takes to drive to Baquba [the provincial capital]."
But the new reality is an effort to shift both US and Iraqi money through the Iraqi government.
Capt. Jonathan Norquist has a sheaf of project folders, the result of a lengthy process of vetting open bids for work.
"Getting this approval process without corruption is much more difficult" than using exclusively US funds as in the past, says Captain Norquist, a civil-military operations officer who has worked electrical and all local services here for a year.
"The way to make the government effective is forcing their systems to work," he says. "Throwing money around is not the right way – but to make them stand up."
The fact that Norquist is nation-building and not war-fighting would have been unthinkable even last year, when the company he was last with was "rendered combat ineffective" because of the number of casualties they sustained.
A US military report says that Balad Ruz is part of the "most neglected area" in the province. A 2008 plan to dig 184 new wells in the province, for example, did not include any in this area.
It notes the need to ensure locals do "not see the insurgency as a viable means to ensuring their future prosperity." The key for US officers is to "bridge communication gaps" between levels of local government to make it "self-sustaining."
And there is another reason to get this largely agricultural area working again.
"If they are farming, they are not out with Al Qaeda in Iraq or smuggling from Iran, so it's a security issue," says Schlicher. "Slowly, this area will make the turn and decide they want to live."