Fallujah rises from the ashes

Posted: Jun 02, 2005 12:00 AM

Fallujah, Iraq -- Critics of the attack on Fallujah last November often invoked the damning (and mythical) utterance from Vietnam: ?We had to destroy the village to save it.? Never mind that the alternative to the massive assault on the city backed by artillery, tanks, and aircraft would either be a huge loss of American lives or simply allowing it to remain terrorist headquarters for all of Iraq. But happily today Fallujah is on the mend and then some, a symbol of renewal and American-Iraqi cooperation.

Although the area is still relatively hostile, as is all of the predominantly Sunni Anbar province, the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force is extending power lines and laying water and sewage pipes at a steady pace. Rubble and explosive ordinance ? some left over from the fighting and some freshly laid by the insurgents ? is being removed. Schoolhouses and hospitals are being fixed and erected. As a bonus, military-age males are receiving good wages to build things instead of blowing up people.

As I traveled through the slowly repopulating city ? about half of the original 250,000 are believed to have returned ? I saw awesome scenes of destruction. But I also saw thriving markets, stores selling candy and ice cream, and scores of children delighted to see Americans. I did more waving than the beauty queen in the 4th of July parade and the kids squealed with delight when I took their picture ? or pretended to.

?We?re mostly known for killing the bad guys? says Lt. Col. Harvey Williams, a reserve officer with the Marine 5th Civil Affairs Group who along with the Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of rebuilding the city. But killing alone can?t defeat the insurgency. Win over the populace or lose the war.

Restoring and expanding access to electricity is top priority here, more so than access to running water because Iraqis pump water up from the mains to tanks on their roof. No electricity, no working pumps.

Williams and his counterpart at the Corp of Engineers, Maj. Daniel Hibner, don?t have the simple goal of restoring pre-war Iraq. ?The baseline is crappy so why go back to that?? says Williams. ?We did do some damage but the repairs are taking these people far beyond where they were.?

The goals are ambitious but they?re being met. All of Fallujah is scheduled to have electricity by January 2006. The Marines have the responsibility for bringing power to the pole, while the Iraqis take it from the pole into homes and shops.

Progress on bringing drinkable water into homes is even faster. ?When we got here, we repaired every potable water system,? says Williams. The problem, he says, is that people are squatting near the pipes and knocking holes in them to get water. Thus the further you are from the source, the Euphrates River, the less likely you are to get water.

To fix that, two storage tanks are being built about halfway along the pipelines that will boost water all the way to the end.

Drainage is extremely important in Fallujah because the city is lower than the Euphrates. Flooding during the upcoming rainy season would be inevitable, save that eight pumping stations will be restored by then. A ninth, pulverized by a large American bomb when insurgents occupied it, will be restored by early next year.

There are enough schools and hospitals to serve the community, but they?re overcrowded and far from ideal. Everything fixable has or is being repaired and new modern facilities are going up. Iraqis are renowned for their engineering skills; the military encourages them and not only to make better structures. ?The idea is that sooner or later they have to do these kinds of projects by themselves,? says Hibner.

Insurgents ?don?t dare? interfere with the reconstruction efforts, says Williams. ?They know they?ll make the people angry.?

?We?re certainly not trying to turn this into the equivalent of an American city,? he says. ?But it will be first class for an Iraqi one and that?s going to win the hearts and minds of the people.? From the smiles, the thumbs up, the waves, and the cries of ?Hello!? in Arabic I got from the children in even the worst parts of the city, I?d say they?re being won.

Michael Fumento (mfumento at pobox.com), embedded with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and senior Fellow at Hudson Institute.

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