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Winning hearts and minds through electricity and water
Published on May 9, 2005 By Rightwinger In Politics
Among the many complaints I see here on JU and hear from other sources about American efforts to establish solid democratic governing in Iraq are complaints about the infrastructure there. Many opponents of our involvement there often point out that public utilities do not operate efficiently; electricity, for example, is or was limited to just a few hours a day. "Why is this?" they ask; "it always seemed to work well enough under Saddam...why is it that we can't get it to work? Aren't we supposed to be giving them everything they had and more? We're failing! We must withdraw!"

A recent article in the local paper here (it was on the front page, too, which surprised me, as it is an extrememly left-leaning rag) goes a long way toward explaining the reasons why the utilities are not operating as well under the new government as they did under the former dictatorship.

A groundskeeper at a local university, Mr. Mark Haney, recently returned from a 14-month tour of duty in Iraq, where, as a Lt. Colonel in Civil Affairs Dept. in the Army Reserves, he helped the local government around Baghdad to get things up and running again.

"The problems with the electrical system were just one indication of what life was like under Saddam," he explained. "No, the power system didn't break down under Saddam, essentially because few people could actually use it." Under Saddam's rule you had to "have a special permit to have an air conditioner or electric stove. To get a permit required knowing the right people---and paying a bribe."
The result was that practically no one had either of these items in their homes. After Saddam and his government was taken down, the need for those permits suddenly disappeared, and air conditioners and electric stoves by the skidful could be found for sale on the streets, and people of course started buying them. The electrical system, neglected for years under Saddam, couldn't handle the drain; the military decided that adding generators would solve the problem. "The real problem, though," Haney said, "was that the lines were so old and inefficient that a quarter of the electricity was lost before it was delivered to the homes."
The same kinds of problems existed with gasoline. There were never lines for gas in Iraq before the war. "That," Haney said, "was because only a select few could own a car. To get a car required another special permit that, like so many other things, required a bribe." After Iraq fell, Iraqis began a frenzy of used-car buying that virtually covered the world, and truckloads of used cars began showing up and were purchased very quickly. The population of Baghdad is around 5 million, and there are few gas stations to service them.
In the sectors where Haney was in charge, there were about 1 million people, many of whom were now car owners who wanted to drive their shiny new vehicles, but only 32 gas pumps, which is the equivalent of having 8 gas pumps to service all of Fort Wayne, Indiana (which is the second largest city in that state, the first being Indianapolis, the capital).
One of the hard parts, according to Haney, was deciding what to do first, so he would go to the people and ask what they wanted. The State Dept. wanted to build schools, which was a good idea, but the people wanted things like water and sewage first, so they wouldn't have to haul their own to and from open sewers and springs or taps in 130-degree temperatures. So, Haney would approach Iraqi construction companies who would then bid on the projects to get the work done.
For $100,000 he managed to bring water service to "a violent section of Baghdad that had never had the luxury of water service under Saddam."
Haney restored water and electrical service to Zarwa Park, a local spot for picnics and family outings. He had the zoo rebuilt and cleaned and constructed new cages for lions, cheetahs, tigers and bears. He also had the concession booths and pavillions restored. As of his departure, thousands of people a day were visiting the restored zoo and park.
Accomplishing things such as installing sewers and water lines in Baghdad was fairly easy, according to Haney, because Saddam's regime had already had the plans drawn up so they could show them to the UN as plans drawn up by a western company and as evidence of progress. No one ever planned to act on them, is all. It would ask the UN for money from the Food for Oil program to do these things, then the money would mysteriously disappear, so nothing was ever done.
Haney said that he "tried to promote the advances made by American forces in-country", but "all the western media was concerned about and interested in was shootings and bombings."

One of the hardest parts of the job, Haney said, was making the Iraqis understand that the old system is gone, and that bribes are no longer necessary. Government now involves customer service and, though corruption of course still exists (especially among the Iraqi police and, since the US military police work with them, this makes the MPs unpopular and targets for insurgents. Regular troops, though, like the cavalry, for example, are most often left alone because they get things done), bribery is no longer the way to get a contract. There is a permanent ban in place on bribery and, as a result, the cost of construction projects has gone down.

Haney is a realist, though; he estimates that it will be perhaps another 10 years before Iraq will be able to come into its own and operate completely free of foreign intervention. In another year, he's planning on being sent back.


We are making progress, peopl, despite what the naysayers and doomcriers here in the States and in other nations say, and despite what stumbling blocks they put in our way.

I, for one, am proud of our military personnel there and and in Afghanistan and the job they're doing under difficult cultural, personal and military circumstances. Mark Haney's story is just one I've read like this, and stories like his need to be heard.

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on May 09, 2005
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