Live from Baghdad

My adventures in Iraq.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Work Details

So, besides sporting my studly uniform and posing for pictures, I'm actually working over here.

WARNING! The following discussion is very boring but some of you might be interested. The rest of you can piss off. Okay, not really.

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is responsible for the largest chunk of the Iraq reconstruction effort. To serve this role, USACE has established a Gulf Region District (GRD) in Iraq. In addition to USACE's own infrastruce program, US Agency for International Development (USAID) has contracted USACE to provide construction management support for USAID projects. USAID is part of the US State Department and is responsible for most "international aid" projects around the world. USACE established the USAID Program Office (UPO) to fulfill this contract. UPO, in turn, has established four "Resident Offices" around the country, responsible for all construction projects in their geographic area. I am working out of the Baghdad Resident Office (BRO) responsible for all projects (water, sewer, energy and general construction) in the Baghdad region (yep, including Sadr City). We are co-located with USAID and UPO headquarters in the USAID compoundin the International Zone (formerly known as the Green Zone).

I am serving as the BRO Project Engineer, which is the #2 position. My office is a small cubicle in a trailer that I share with our Resident Engineer (my boss) and our Iraqi admin assistant. I'm overseeing a team of 4 USACE QA engineers (Americans) and 6 Iraqi FSNs (Foreign Service Nationals) that we're training to do construction QA. Since we're working closely with USAID and they want to disassociate from the military, we wear civilian clothes everyday (albeit with flak jackets and helmets when we're out of our compound).

USAID awarded all of their construction projects to one conctractor, Bechtel. Bechtel is one of the largest engineering firms in the world (if not the largest). They actually got their start by building Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. Most of our job is to monitor Bechtel's progress and advise our client (USAID) on project status. We also provide technical assistance and try to help move projects along quicker.

We are focused on three kinds of projects right now: Water Treatment Plants, Wastewater Treatment Plants, and Power Generation. Basically, the first two projects have the same goal - providing clean drinking water to the people of Iraq. Most of the water in Baghdad comes out of the Tigris River which flows through the middle of town. As you can imagine, the river is a filthy cesspool. During the post Gulf War I years, Iraqi engineers kept the water treatment plants and wastewater plants running with Band-Aids and spit, often under threat from Saddam. After the invasion, everything that wasn't welded into place was looted (even the bolted stuff). In the meantime, the wastewater plants filled up with (pardon my language) shit and sewer was flowing directly into the Tigris. Add the fact that the water treatment plants weren't working either and you can see the problem. Likewise, Saddam used to use electricity as a "carrot" for rewarding his followers. If he liked you today, you got to use your refrigerator and your air conditioning. Very handy when it's 120 degrees outside. The way an Iraqi could tell if he'd have power today, at least in Baghdad, was to see how many of the 4 smokestacks at the Doura power plant were smoking. Right now, we've only got one of those stacks spewing (i.e., one turbine running) and people aren't happy. We're trying to get the rest of them working soon.

So, we're not necessarily trying to rebuild the country over here but we are trying to complete some projects that will make day-to-day life a little easier on the average Iraqi. We're also employing thousands of Iraqis and we're trying to make most of our projects labor-intensive since a guy getting paid to hold a shovel today is a lot less likely to pick up an RPG tonight. Or so we hope.

Anyways, that's what I'm doing over here. If you're interested, I'll be happy to share more. If you're just waiting for more cool pictures, I apologize for the boring stuff and I promise to post some more tomorrow.