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Killing terrorists & calling 911

"Killing terrorists & calling 911" Continued...

Issue: "Living a legend," Aug. 19, 2006

Instead, U.S.-assisted Iraqi troops are taking down terrorists with increasing efficiency. In July, Iraqi soldiers engaged and defeated enemy combatants in Mahmudiyah, Hayy Al Shuhada, and Iskandariyah. U.S. Army and Iraqi soldiers joined forces in July to defeat a planned terrorist insurrection in the cities of Mussayib and Husaniyah. While Iraqi forces stripped a mosque of a terrorist weapons cache, American fighters killed 15 terrorists during a three-hour firefight.

Beyond the battlefield, U.S. soldiers are working to win hearts and minds. The Army Gulf Region Division is working alongside the Department of State's Iraqi Reconstruction Management Office, USAID, and other military and government agencies to rebuild Iraq.

Reconstruction projects include schools, health-care facilities, water and electrical facilities, transportation systems, police and border stations, courts, and prisons. In July, U.S. forces completed construction on an irrigation project and a police station in Baghdad Province, launched street-paving in Najaf, and began digging five wells in Erbil Province.

Thus far, American forces have completed 2,440 of 3,408 planned reconstruction projects, according to the Aug. 7 Iraq Reconstruction Report, including:

  • Increased power generation to 1.3 million of a projected 1.4 million homes.
  • Renovated 11 of 14 hospitals.
  • Built or renovated 834 of 847 schools.
  • Completed construction of 341 of 399 police stations, and 247 of 253 border forts.
  • Completed installation of a 911 emergency service covering 12 million Iraqis in 15 cities.

The push to rebuild Iraqi water-treatment facilities appears to be lagging behind other reconstruction efforts. To date, U.S. military units have completed just 20 percent of planned water-treatment capacity-improvement projects.

Meanwhile, civil affairs units have fanned out across Iraq, assisting villagers with both reconstruction and community-development projects. Tammy Thompson, an Air Force technical sergeant with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, told The Charlotte Observer on July 20 that Iraq is far different from what she'd imagined-and nothing like what she'd seen on American television.

"It's really kind of quiet," Thompson said. "You don't hear gunshots and explosions. I know all of you are seeing the bad things going on. The violence. The danger. But from our vantage point, we can see good things happening here." (Her experience may reflect the fact that insurgent attacks in 14 of 18 provinces have fallen below one per day.) The 403rd has helped villagers in Mosul dig wells, restore electrical power, and establish a women's wellness center.

Underreporting of such efforts is nothing new. For example, a revolutionary women's rights initiative that Maj. Wayne Culbreth helped launch in 2005 unfolded unnoticed in Diyala Province, along the Iranian border. When Saddam took power, families fled into Iran, but they returned when the United States liberated Iraq. The repatriated women brought with them a new skill: the ancient art of weaving fine Persian rugs.

Culbreth and civil affairs officers of the 278th Regimental Combat Team helped women in one Diyala village to organize a nonprofit women's rights group. Using a budget provided for the purpose, the 278th constructed a building for the women, setting up a café on the bottom floor-the first social gathering place the women had ever had-and, on the top floor, a factory floor for rug-weaving. Both created revenue streams, helping the group become self-sufficient.

"At one meeting, the women were telling me they were very frustrated with their mayor," said Culbreth, 34, who now serves as director of global outreach at Hope Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn. "They wanted access to education and had concerns about water. But the mayor wouldn't listen because they were a women's group. Obviously, we never voiced support for or against an elected official. But we told the women, if the mayor will not listen to you, find someone who will, then go out and tell all the women to vote for that person."

Culbreth that day witnessed the dawn of a new understanding. "The room exploded with chatter," he said. "You could just see the energy level in the room rise as these women realized what this thing called democracy meant to them and that through their numbers, they could make a difference."

Culbreth, who has many friends still deployed in Iraq, today follows the news closely. He notes that the 278th handed off their civil affairs efforts "to very competent people coming in behind us. There are probably twice as many civil affairs projects going on now as when I was there and there's still no evidence of it in the news."

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