Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ramadi: Open for Business

by Andrew Lubin 08-06-2007, 02:58 PM • by ON Point “This place is dynamic ! The people are working ‘round the clock, and it’s all positive,” said Kristen Hagerstrom, leader of the ePRT ( embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team ) based in Ramadi. Mrs. Hagerstom spent an hour talking with OnPoint Sunday about the economic and administrative successes in the city. When 1st Battalion, 6th Marines left Ramadi in June, they’d successfully cleared the city of Al-Quada, and formed a successful partnership with Sheik Sattar al-rishi and his newly-formed “Sons of Anbar.” Long before terms like “The Surge” and “Clear-Hold-Build” entered the Pentagon and American public’s vocabulary; 1/ 6 Marines had fought and cleared Ramadi and established outposts at 17th Street, the Government Center, Khatanna, and others, and then turned them over to their enthusiastic Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police replacements. “…and we arrived in April at a perfect time,” Mrs. Hagerstrom continued. “the city just had experienced thirteen days without a shot being fired, Mayor Latif was coming into his own as a mayor, and the Sunni’s were volunteering to join the police in record numbers.” Her ePRT Team arrived soon after 1st BCT, 3rd ID ( under Col John Charleton ) formally took over Ramadi. 1st BCT’s 6,000 Army, Marines, Navy, and Air Force have aggressively and successfully continued to expand these newly positive dynamics. The Provisional Reconstruction Teams are part of Gen. David Petraeus’s counter-insurgency strategy; keep the people employed, get them a salary, and they’ll be too busy working being heads of households again to be insurgents. Sent by the State Department, the PRT’s and ePRT’s bring specialized skills in order to help the Iraqi towns and municipalities regain their administrative skills, help establish jobs and businesses, along with the necessary ancillary services like fuel distribution and electricity. Kristen Hagerstrom has 17 years experience in the Foreign Service; David Smale, also Foreign Service, is their USAID representative. Bill Marks and Denis Sheally are DoD civilians; both ex- Air Force; Marks is working on getting the local ceramics factory up and working, and Sheally is advising the Ramadi government on how to deliver services such as water, sewage, and trash removal to the people. In the Middle East, personal relations are of utmost importance, and relations with Ramadi’s Mayor, Latif Obaid are excellent. Mayor Latif took office in January, with no budget, no staff, and a city council that was fearful of meeting. Today he has his own office, staff, a budget, and an active and aggressive city council, and city managers. Recently he was spotted at midnight, in a hardhat helping laborers complete a water system into a part of Ramadi that hadn’t had running water in 2 years. “When he called us at midnight to brag about the water being back on,” said Mrs. Hegarstrom, “we could hear the townspeople cheering in the background. This mayor is getting things accomplished!” Ramadi is the home to many of the educated and retired Sunni diplomats, soldiers, and professionals from Saddam’s regime; the talent for reconstruction has been available, if not co-operative. But with Sheik Sattar’s Sons of Anbar joining with Coalition forces and regaining control of the province from Al-Quada, the managerial talent has suddenly re-appeared. Latif’s Deputy mayor had been a diplomat based in Havana, but as Bill Marks said “He gets it now; he knows we’re just here to help, and not take over, and he and his circle are getting more and more involved in managing and governing.” With reconstruction work booming for any teen and early 20’s male who will wield a shovel; salaries have increased in the last three months to almost $ 10 / day. Hegarstrom again “There is work for everyone, which has three main benefits. 1 – it cleans up the city, 2 now they’ve got money, they’re empowered, and so they keep out of trouble, and 3 since they have money, shops are opening, and now we have the basics of an economy. Marks is responsible for re-opening the big state-owned glass plant. Producing both glass products and ceramics, under Saddam it had 1,800 employees. Marks will be re-opening the ceramics side first; he’s located the necessary work force, and expects to open this October – November. “They’ll be making floor tiles, wall tiles, and sanitary items ( sinks & toilets ), all of which will be used locally. We’ll have approx 250 people in each section, so within a few months we’ll have 750 people back to work.” Most of the raw materials are available locally, and all the production will be sold into the local building boom, which will also serve to boost the economy in Ramadi and Anbar. With Hegarstom’s ePRT about 1/3rd the size of a normal State Department PRT, they were fortunate to have some military talent join them. LtCol Christine Rem, an Army nurse, is the Civil Affairs liaison who also deals with health, education, and women's issues. There are approximately 80,000 children ( K-12) attending dozens of schools. With the children having missed some three years of formal schooling during the past insurgency, reopening and staffing the school has been one of Mayor Latif’s priorities. An unexpected benefit is that with the Iraqi education system founded by the British, the children normally wear uniforms to school the re-opening of the schools has given rise to dozens of new tailor shops, creating yet more employment. Lt Col Morris Gray Army works budgets and small business. Navy CMDR Kevin Anderson handles agricultural issues and electricity. Through cooperation and coordination between Mayor Latif, the local Army Corps of Engineers unit, and Cmdr Anderson, electricity availability in Ramadi is now 80 %. With the electricity coming in from the huge hydroelectric plant in Haditha, security is provided by the local Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police units, with overwatch provided by the Marines from 2MEF. CMDR Emory Haskel is Reservist lawyer who works on rule of law issues, and they are days away from having criminal courts reopen. MSgt Jay Thornton handles issues of food distribution and neighborhood councils. A very successful program is the program for shopkeepers. These Grants have an value average $2500. No money handed over rather the recipient finds a suitable storefront, and the grant pays for a complete shop. The ePRT’s are fielding requests from some 50 different types of shops, from butcher to bakers to fabric shops and small corner groceries. At this moment dozens have been completed, meaning the store has been delivered on-site and opened. The expectation is for hundred to be opened in the next few months. Each store is averaging three employees, which also serves to channel their wages back into the economy But what is happening these days is possible because of the relations between the Sunnis in Ramadi and Anbar, as led by Sheik Sattar. As he said this winter when being visited by Deputy Under Secretary of State John Negroponte : I would like to convey greetings from the Sons of Anbar to the American people. I want to give my condolences for the American blood shed in the Anbar Province to the American people, and I ask the Army and Marines to stay because we would be an easy target for terrorists. Stay until we gain our strength, and then staying is up to you. The policy started by 1st Battalion, 6th Marines has not changed; it’s still “clear-hold-build…but all done at the same time,” that lets the ice cream shops and school-children co-exist peacefully and profitably next to the police stations staffed by their motivated Sunni neighbors. While all is far from perfect, as opposed to the Administration’s plans to “write off” Ramadi, Mayor Latif Obaid can proudly and accurately announce “Ramadi is open for business".

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