HUSAYBAH, Iraq -- A meeting between Al Qaim regional municipal leadership and the Civil-Military Operations Center staff was held here Dec. 12 to review the status of projects currently in the works, such as getting local power generation and water systems back online full-time.
The only problem was that some of the Iraqis who handle power generation and the water systems weren’t here.
Unlike in the United States, where the only impediment to a key department head making the afternoon meeting might be an upset stomach from the deli tray; here, there are significant obstacles for leadership to simply get to the appointed place for such meetings. In the United States, all or most of the key figures work in the same building; if not, they’re only a call to a cell phone, pager or e-mail away. Not so here.
“We’ve talked to the telephone people, and you should be able to call as far back as Baghdad within a couple of days,” said Lt. Col. Robert Glover, director, Al Qaim regional CMOC, to the assembled civic leadership.
Something as simple as telephone contact with a major city is a major accomplishment in Iraq. Iraq’s telecommunications network, reaching out to the more rustic cities like Husaybah and Ubaydi was not strong to begin with and has been weakened by three years of warfare. Between insurgent attacks designed specifically to damage the nation’s infrastructure and precisely coordinated Coalition strikes to disrupt and delay terrorist activity, there isn’t much left.
This is where the CMOC, a function of 6th Civil Affairs Group, composed mainly of reserve Marines out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., comes in to help.
“These folks are pretty far behind the U.S. in technology, everything, computers, telephones, power.” said Cpl. Jason Johnson, 23, an Auburn, Wash., native and field radio operator with 6th CAG.
CAG is working hard to get the power back on, Johnson went on to say, but this is somewhat inaccurate even though it may seem like truth to the casual observer.
“We are here solely to facilitate reconstruction,” said Chief Warrant Officer Greg Williams, operations officer, Al Qaim CMOC.
In other words, the CAG is not working at all to get power, water and other utilities back on; they are working very hard, however, at making sure the Iraqis have every opportunity to get them back online themselves. It is an important distinction. The Marines aren’t here to put everything back where they found it, but instead to secure an environment where the Iraqis are able to do so.
At times this can be difficult.
“Can I let you all in on a secret?” said Glover, through his Iraqi interpreter, Mike.
Glover often takes a conversational tone, straying from the overly stiff manner of speaking often heard when forced to speak through a translator. It has the dual effect of putting the Iraqis at ease and allowing them to see the character of the man orchestrating the reconstruction projects here.
“We drove in from Al Qaim a few nights ago, and do you know what I saw? From Al Qaim to Karabilah, it was lit up like a Christmas tree; streetlights and house lights everywhere. Then when we get to Husaybah,” he said, making a chopping motion with his hand, “and boom. No lights. There’s something wrong with that.”
At issue here is oil. There was some general murmuring and talk of the power station recently delivered to the city needing hydraulic oil.
“No,” said Chief Warrant Officer Michael Anderson, team commander, 6th CAG. “It’s not hydraulic oil. It’s something called transformer insulation oil.”
Anderson proceeded to go into a technical breakdown of exactly what this oil does, what role it plays in the functioning of the power station, and how the station can run for at least a little while without it.
Also present at the meeting was the manager of the government-owned phosphate plant. Anderson got his attention and, through the translator, said, “And you should have a lot of it at the phosphate plant.”
This was another facilitation. Certainly the Coalition could afford to buy the transformer insulation oil, but its goal is not simply to prop up the civic leadership. This would only set them up for failure once the Americans leave. Instead, Anderson pointed out a way for the Iraqis to work amongst themselves to come to a solution. They are encouraged to leave the Americans out of their reconstruction conversations when practical.
At the end of the meeting, Glover collected as many telephone numbers and e-mail addresses as possible. This will make it easier to contact the Iraqi men gathered here to ensure they come to the next meeting. He assured them that next week the checkpoints around the city would know who they were and that they have business with him. Glover affirmed that he would do everything he could to set them up for success.
All they will have to do is get themselves there.