Iraqis Restore Babylon

29 Apr 2003 | Sgt. L.A. Salinas

Iraqis are learning to take control of their lives and earnings now that Saddam's dictatorship is no longer a threat.

In one effort to kick start the economy after the fall of Saddam's regime, Iraqis are being hired to do basic landscaping and maintaining at one of Saddam's former palaces near the ancient city of Babylon. The site is the temporary home of I Marine Expeditionary Force Marines, sailors and soldiers. The Iraqis working here are paid the equivalent of minimum wages in the area, which equates to $2 per day.

"All this money is from contracts," said Sgt. Rodolfo Mercado, disbursing chief with Combat Service Support Command-151. "[I MEF] wanted this place to get cleaned up so they hired the nationals to do it."

"The MEF is the one that has the budget out here, they are the ones taking over the tab," said the 24-year old from Norwalk, Calif.

Although communication within the unit is no issue, talking to Iraqi's brings on new challenges.

"Sometimes it takes as much effort to get 10 of these guys to sweep out a building than me do it myself because of the language barrier," said Cpl. John M. Mogray, training non-commissioned officer for I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group.

The 23-year old from Hickory N.C. is one of the two Marines who supervises the groups of workers.

Many of the workers bring their own food, which includes flour flat bread filled with tomatoes, cucumbers, and egg, but all are offered Meals Ready to Eat. According to Mogray, the most popular with the workers are the chicken MRE's.

The workers are also given as much potable water as they can carry, which is purified from the local Euphrates River. Some however, have chosen to drink straight out of the river.

Among the once again flowering gardens and trimmed bushes, Lance Cpl. Robert J. Marquez, 20, from San Diego, Calif., emphasizes the benefits of personal hygiene to locals that have been in a state of poverty where other life necessities have taken priority for years.

"I'm trying to make them brush their teeth when they come out here," said Marquez, wireman with 9th Communication Battalion. "I brought my toothbrush and showed them that we would all brush together."

Lance Cpl. Timothy G. Wolf, computer networker with 9th Communication Battalion, claims to have the hardest working group.
Differences in cultures can make projects slow down but there are a couple of things that makes work come to a halt. 

"There are two things that can get these guys to stop working. One is a helicopter. They are amazed to see them fly overhead," said 20-year old from Riverside, Calif. "The second is a woman."