Reconstructing Al Anbar

26 May 2006 | Maj. Chris Perrine

Reconstruction and development is still underway in Al Anbar province three years after coalition forces invaded Iraq in the Spring of 2003. The Iraqi government and coalition forces have made some progress, but there are still many challenges, according to Lt. Col. Eric P. Crudo, Detachment 4, 3rd Civil Affairs Group.

The U.S. has invested approximately $350 million in developing Al Anbar province alone, according to Crudo, a Marine reservist who is the Governance Team Leader for Continuation and Planning. His job is to advise and assist the Al Anbar provincial government on issues regarding reconstruction and development in the region.

“There’s a lot of work going on, I’ll say that,” said Crudo. “In some cities more than others, and that’s based on need, obviously.”

The Iraqi government is also beginning to fund projects here, which is a significant step forward, according to Crudo. The central government has made available an initial sum of $75 million of Development Funds for Iraq.

“What the reconstruction council is trying to do is put together a list of projects that the province needs to execute using this money,” said Crudo. “We are told that there is another $100 million for development funds available after the $75 million,” he added.

Crudo said that he has oversight of approximately 100 projects worth around $40 million currently underway in the province, which is close in size to North Carolina. Other organizations, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, have additional projects in progress. Funding comes from a variety of sources, and the priority is to improve essential services, such as water, sewage, electricity and health services.

Many challenges face the development effort, according to Crudo. The foremost is a tenuous security situation. The Al Anbar region is a hotbed of violence, and insurgents have an active murder and intimidation campaign, especially in the capital city Ramadi where Crudo works.

“So we’re trying to tackle two major issues at the same time,” said Crudo, referring to efforts to restore essential services and security. “It’s kind of like trying to change a tire while you’re moving 65 miles an hour.”

The province also suffers from poor infrastructure. Governor Maamoon Sami Rasheed Al-Awani has often stated that years of neglect under the Saddam Hussein regime is one of the major factors that hinder progress today.

Gunnery Sgt. Benjamin E. Trevizo said he was amazed at the status of the electricity infrastructure when he participated in the 2003 invasion. According to the Marine reservist, who is the GTL for Electricity in Al Anbar and is a Service Coordinator for Arizona Public Service electric utility company at home, Iraq had the system it needed in place, but it had suffered from lack of maintenance for years.

Trevizo is back in Iraq for a second tour, his fourth tour in the region since the 1991 Gulf War. He reports that more homes in Al Anbar now have access to power than in 2003, but they average about the same amount hours of electricity per day. Each household gets approximately three hours, and not all at once. Trevizo compares it to rolling blackouts in California.

“They have the power; they just don’t have the transmission assets,” said Trevizo.
He is working hard with the Iraqi director general and other Civil Affairs Marines to improve the transmission capability. However, Trevizo said that efforts are hindered by problems with tribal leadership cooperation and insurgent activity.

“The bad guys know we’re trying to make a difference and specifically target that,” said Trevizo.

Crudo’s ultimate goal is to help the Al Anbar government get to the point where it can take over and continue the reconstruction effort after coalition forces have left.

“The big accomplishment that we are going to be measured on is whether are able through these reconstruction efforts to increase the government’s capacity to govern,” said Crudo. “So, reconstruction is a vehicle right now to help coach and mentor governance capability.”

To accomplish his goal Crudo advises and assists the provincial director general who oversees reconstruction and development efforts. Together, they supervise the contracting, bidding and development process for reconstruction projects. They also work closely with the Provincial Reconstruction Development Council. The council is made up of all of the province’s directors general and reviews and approves all reconstruction projects that cost more than $25,000. Projects that run less than that amount can be approved by local governments and the Marine Civil Affairs detachments that work there, according to Crudo.

In Crudo’s assessment, the Iraqis are very capable of taking over reconstruction. “My experience to date tells me that there is an educated workforce,” said Crudo. “Quite a few of the DGs out there are engineers…and the others are doctors or professionals of some sort.”

Crudo says that the coalition is a quiet member when it comes to Iraqi funded projects. The Al Anbar council is able to handle the bid analysis and awarding process itself, with a critical measure of transparency, and Crudo just offers advice when necessary.

“The projects that they are doing on their own, with their own money, is the first sign I believe that the turnover has begun.”

Still, Crudo knows that this is not a short-term goal. “I don’t believe the mission is going to be considered complete and stamped a success at the end of our tour here (in Sept.), said Crudo. “I think that this is going to be a very long process, and as long as we continue to advance forward then it can succeed.”