Below is part of village in the Abu Hyatt region just outside one of our camps. Not a pleasant place, IMO, but I guess people like the place they live and get used to it after a while. The stone work is kind of interesting. When you fly over these places, you see some patches of green that are not evident from ground level, so it is not as bad as it looks. (reminds me of what MarkTwain said re German opera – it is better than it sounds. Actually, I like the music where the fat lady sings, but the comment is funny.) Nevertheless, despite all the beauty contained in the various shades of khaki, when I leave Iraq this fall I will not come back. Some people like deserts and they can have them. I like trees and grass too much.
Abu Hyatt was still hot and dangerous when I arrived in Iraq eight months ago. Insurgents and terrorists passed through it and used it as a sort of safe haven. RCT 2 made cleaning it up a priority and RCT 5 has followed up. Today it enjoys a tentative stability. People are returning and rebuilding. A representative from Abu Hyatt sits on the regional board and our ePRT is working on projects and public diplomacy to help solidify the gains.
Sixteen villages comprise the district. Most of the people work in agriculture. They grow dates and citrus, fodder crops and sunflowers. Of course, there are the usual sheep. Some people also work at the local refinery at K3.
Since it so recently came out of its time of troubles, Abu Hyatt still suffers a lot of insurgent related damage. The Marines are repairing schools and bridges, but there are some problems that were around before the late unpleasantness. One challenge is clean water. We are helping install some solar powered water purification systems in one of the villages. If it works well, more can be installed; we are eager to share our experience and expertise, but prefer using Iraqi funds for the next steps.
One thing working well is our application system. It is a form of intellectual property that helps us and helps the Iraqis. We want to ensure that all the projects our ePRT funds are worthy and sustainable, but it is hard for us properly to vet all of them. To address this, we developed an application process, which we make available in easy step-by-step form in both English and Arabic. It requires the approval of those who will actually make the project work and requires that the Iraqi side make significant contributions in kind, labor or money. We also want to ensure that the Iraqi authorities are not planning to do the project already. Many would prefer to spend our money before they dip into their own pockets. This makes it harder.
Our application system also puts the onus on the Iraqis to organize. I don’t like the idea of going to visit someone and just getting a list of demands or needs. We get a lot more done and a lot more respect when we work as partners not mere providers. We do not fund most projects, but our contacts have told us that the organizing and planning they have done to prepare the proposal helps them make priorities and proposals for their own authorities to consider and fund, so the process has the salutary effect of providing real world, hands-on training.
Iraqis are competent people. We should treat them that way, which means requiring them to hold up their side.
I also got an interesting insight re Iraqi officials. I just had not thought about it, but after the fall of Saddam the highest ranking officials lost their jobs and were barred from coming back. Some of these were bad guys, who got what they had coming. Others were just technocrats. In any case, they were the ones with the experience and insight to run things. Often we had to go down to the third or forth tier of leadership to find a politically correct guy to run things. Some of these guys just needed an opportunity; others had been third or forth tier for good reason. In any case, it is taking Iraqis some time to develop or redevelop the capacity for bureaucratic leadership.
Sometimes the most useful thing we can do is not give money, but rather the stimulus to exercise leadership and provide some methods that help develop it.
Above – everything happens in a cloud of dust.