Wednesday, January 18, 2006

''A Tribute to Iraqi Ingenuity...''

"January 17, 2006 marks the 15th commemoration of the Gulf War in 1991 after Iraq occupied Kuwait (briefly) in 1990. (Or according to American terminology, after Iraq ‘liberated’ Kuwait in 1990.

For 42 days, Baghdad and other cities and towns were bombarded with nearly 140,000 tons of explosives, by international estimates. The bombing was relentless- schools, housing complexes, factories, bridges, electric power stations, ministries, sewage facilities, oil refineries, operators, and even bomb shelters (including the only baby formula factory in Iraq and the infamous Amirya Shelter bombing where almost 400 civilians were killed).

According to reports and statistics made by the “Iraqi Reconstruction Bureau” and the ministries involved in reconstruction, prior to the 2003 war/occupation, the following damage was done through 42 days of continuous bombing, and various acts of vandalism:

Schools and scholastic facilities – 3960
Universities, labs, dormitories – 40
Health facilities (including hospitals, clinics, medical warehouses) – 421
Telephone operators, communication towers, etc. – 475
Bridges, buildings, housing complexes – 260
Warehouses, shopping centers, grain silos – 251
Churches and mosques – 159
Dams, water pumping stations, agricultural facilities – 200
Petroleum facilities (including refineries) – 145
General services (shelters, sewage treatment plants, municipalities) - 830
Factories, mines, industrial facilities - 120

…And much, much more- including radio broadcasting towers, museums, orphanages, retirement homes, etc. While the larger damage- damage to dams, bridges, warehouses, ministries, food silos, etc.- was done by warplanes and missiles, the damage to smaller facilities was caused largely by vandalism in the south of the country and in areas like Kirkuk. In the south it was mainly the work of the “intifadah” which was initiated by the ‘tawabin’ or “The Repentant” who infiltrated the south from Iran and found supporters inside of the country. (Many of the ‘Tawabin’ are known today as Badir’s Brigade.)

What happened in the south in 1991 is similar to what happened in Baghdad in 2003- burning, looting and attacks. The area fell into chaos after the Republican Guard was pulled out to different governorates for the duration of the war. Meanwhile, the US was bombing the Iraqi army as it was pulling out of Kuwait and the Tawabin were killing off some of the Iraqi troops who had abandoned their tanks and artillery and were coming back on foot through the south. Many of those troops, and the civilians killed during the attacks, looting, and burning, were buried in some of the mass graves we conveniently blame solely on Saddam and the Republican Guard- but no one bothers to mention this anymore because it’s easier to blame the dictator.

But I digress- the topic today is reconstruction. Immediately after the war, various ministries were brought together to do the reconstruction work. The focus was on the infrastructure- to bring back the refineries, electricity, water, bridges, and telecommunications.

The task was a daunting one because so many of Iraq’s major infrastructure projects and buildings had been designed and built by foreign contractors from all over the world including French, German, Chinese and Japanese companies. The foreign expertise was unavailable after 1991 due to the war and embargo and Iraqi engineers and technicians found themselves facing the devastation of the Gulf War all alone with limited supplies.

Two years and approximately 8 billion Iraqi dinars later, nearly 90% of the damage had been repaired. It took an estimated 6,000 engineers (all Iraqi), 42,000 technicians, and 12,000 administrators, but bridges were soon up again, telephones were more or less functioning in most areas, refineries were working, water was running and electricity wasn’t back 100%, but it was certainly better than it is today. Within the first two years over 100 small and large bridges had been reconstructed, 16 refineries, over 50 factories and industrial compounds, etc.

It wasn’t perfect- it wasn’t Halliburton… It wasn’t KBR…but it was Iraqi. There was that sense of satisfaction and pride looking upon a building or bridge that was damaged during the war and seeing it up and running and looking better than it did before.

Now, nearly three years after this war, the buildings are still piles of debris. Electricity is terrible. Water is cut off for days at a time. Telephone lines come and go. Oil production isn’t even at pre-war levels… and Iraqis hear about the billions upon billions that come and go. A billion here for security… Five hundred million there for the infrastructure… Millions for voting… Iraq falling into deeper debt… Engineers without jobs simply because they are not a part of this political party or that religious group… And the country still in shambles.

One of the biggest, most complicated and most swiftly executed reconstruction projects was the Dawra Refinery in Baghdad. It is Iraq’s oldest refinery and one of its largest. It was bombed several times during the Gulf War and oil production came to a halt. After the war, it is said that the Iraqi government negotiated with an Italian company to reconstruct it but the price requested by the company was extremely high. It was decided then that the reconstruction effort would be completely local and the work began almost immediately. Several months later, during the summer of 1991, when the Italian experts came back to assess the damage, they found that the refinery was functioning.

Below are some pictures that were sent to me by an engineer who was a part of the reconstruction effort and is currently jobless in Amman. The pictures are both painful and inspiring. Fifteen years later and it is difficult to see the damage that was wrought on the country… But the ‘after’ pictures give me faith that Iraq will rise once more- in spite of occupiers and meddlers.

Note: I was tempted to stamp all the ‘after’ pictures with “AMERICANS DID NOT RECONSTRUCT THIS” as I know that in a month some clueless Republican will send them back to me with the words, “Look at how we reconstructed your country!”-Riverbend on her blog, "Baghdad Burning."

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