Sunday, December 19, 2004

Rebuilding Iraq

Our local newspaper carried a personal-interest story in the business section today, about a local woman, Kathye A. Johnson (an engineer, no less!), who spent three months in Iraq this year for her company:

In August, Johnson, 47, of Medford, planned a short trip to Iraq to explore business opportunities for her employer, a global construction management firm where she was vice president of operations.

She hoped to expand on the $1.2 billion contract already awarded by the Army Corps of Engineers to a combination of Hill and Michael Baker Jr. Inc. of Moon Township, Pa., and Stanley Consultants Inc. of Muscatine, Iowa. The joint, five-year contract is part of an $18.4 billion package approved by Congress in 2003 to rebuild Iraq.

She remained through October because the person Hill had hired to run the entire job in Iraq was not working out. Johnson volunteered to fill in until James E. Koch of St. Louis replaced her.


One of the architects of the reconstruction efforts in Iraq, Army Gen. Tom Bostick, praised Johnson's work.

"We were in dire straits before she arrived. Kathye was an impact player from day one. She was a great leader and most helpful in bringing disparate teams together working toward a common goal," said Bostick of the Army Corps of Engineers.

When she stepped in to mop up the mess, she said the reconstruction effort was at a standstill. Less than 5 percent of the hundreds of planned construction projects from rebuilding schools to restoring potable water had broken ground. Morale was deteriorating because communication among the various divisions had broken down and cohesive leadership was lacking.

"There was a lot of insurgent activity, plus I picked up a serious respiratory infection about 10 days after I arrived. Still, we worked nonstop, seven days a week, on the database and got all the players talking to one another again. There's probably 100 companies involved under our joint team, which has grown from 12 to 22. I helped put the reconstruction effort on track and I believe I made a difference," said Johnson, who had traveled extensively, including a two-year stint in Bangkok, while working for Fluor Corp. before joining Hill's staff nearly three years ago.

Sites that regularly carry good news from Iraq and Afghanistan include Chrenkoff, Blackfive, Winds of Change, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division, US State Department, and DefenseLink. Some recent stories:

United States Forgives 100 Percent of Iraqi Debt

Washington -- The U.S. government has written off 100 percent of Iraq's sovereign debt to the United States, a total of $4.1 billion, with an agreement signed by Secretary of State Colin Powell, Treasury Secretary John Snow and Iraqi Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi December 17.

"Lifting the crushing burden of the old regime's debt is one of the most important contributions we can make to Iraq's new beginning," Powell said at the signing ceremony.

Minister al-Mahdi noted that Iraq was a donor nation in the early 1970s, but he said, "Over two decades, all the fortunes and wealth of Iraq were destroyed. Instead of having billions of reserves, Iraq was left with billions in debts."

The minister blamed the former regime of Saddam Hussein for wasting Iraq's wealth in wars with its neighbors.

Secretary Snow said, "The situation that Iraq faces is unprecedented, and the response of the world community needed to be unprecedented as well." He said dramatic debt relief is necessary if Iraq is to be able to reintegrate into the world community.

The agreement to write off Iraq's debt to the United States follows a decision by the Paris Club of creditor nations to write off 80 percent of Iraq's debt to its members in a three-phase process over the next four years. The November agreement of the Paris Club reduced Iraq's debt to the member nations from $38.9 billion to $7.8 billion.

Al-Mahdi characterized the Paris Club agreement as "a second liberation of Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein." He said that liberating the economy is an important part of liberating Iraq.

Powell hailed the debt relief that Iraq has received saying, "Rather than financing the vices of the old tyrant, Iraq's treasures and resources are being used to bolster security and build infrastructure, to care for the nation's elderly and educate its young people."

Rehabilitation of Iraq's Sweet Water Canal Completed, USAID Says

The U.S. Agency for International Development's $23 million rehabilitation of Southern Iraq's Sweet Water Canal was successfully completed this week. The project was conducted on behalf of Iraq's Ministry of Water Resources with Bechtel Corporation serving as the prime contractor.

The massive cleansing and repair of this vital 149 mile waterway also includes the $12 million refurbishment of 13 water treatment plants and the repair of the RZero pumping station that sends water from the canal's reservoir through a network of pipelines leading to residential, commercial and agricultural users.

The Sweet Water Canal has been a primary source of fresh water for the city of Basrah since 1996. But lack of maintenance caused sediment to accumulate in sections of the canal and pumps to break because of the turbidity. When USAID undertook the rehabilitation, the canal's embankments were cracked and many mechanical and electrical components in the pumping stations were beyond repair.

The completed USAID project improves the quality and nearly doubles the quantity of fresh, potable water produced for the 1.75 million of the Basrah region. The training of local plant managers insures proper maintenance in the future.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has provided economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide for more than 40 years.

Airport Opening Considered First Step to Return of Iraqi Tourism
BASRA, Iraq, Dec. 17, 2004 -- In July 2005, Basra International Airport in Iraq will officially open for commercial air and passenger traffic.

"The airport was never really functional," said Nolan Smith, assistant area engineer for the Basra office, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region South. "It was never formally opened to large commercial flights, primarily because of war. But now, it could open up to cargo flights in the very near future."

The $4.9 million renovation of the terminal includes the air traffic control tower, according to Erick Bush, with construction services for the Transportation and Communications Sector of the Corps' southern district. The navigational aids contract has not yet been awarded, but it is out for bid, according to Bush.

Construction needs not yet funded include upgrades to the fuel farm and electric feeder lines. A Native Alaskan firm, Nana Pacific, won the bid and was to start work in early December.

"The airport is one of highest profile projects we have here, with high likelihood of success: being on schedule, on budget and being fully functional when complete," Bush said.

The airport has managed to avoid the 10 years of war, embargo and looting that have devastated other places in the country, according to Smith. "The art is still there," he said, "and there is a lot of it. The facilities are old and suffer from neglect, but we are hoping that some may be reparable.