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Straight From Iraq: Good Deeds and a Tale of Two Cranes
By Richard Rubright / Special Correspondent
Mar 6, 2008 - 7:49:11 PM

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Richard Rubright Photos Two soldiers look at the Stryker Armoured vehicle that provided speedy transportation for Rubright.
When I arrived at Forward Operating Base Warhorse, the Public Affairs Officer asked me what I wanted to cover.  I immediately wanted to see some of the good things that we are doing to win support of the Iraqi people, which is an important part of any counterinsurgency effort.  I was promptly directed to the Essential Services Team from Headquarters Company of the 1st Battalion 38th Infantry Regiment (They are attached to 4th Brigade 2nd Infantry Division).  The Team is headed up by Capt. Phillip Mundwiel who struck me as a very competent and experienced officer.  I was lucky in that at the same time he was showing his replacement (he is due to rotate out of Iraq soon) 1st Lieutenant Rosieta Rodriguez the projects he has been working on. 

They agreed to allow me to tag along and take video as well as pictures of the sites; and, of course, pester them with questions about many aspects of their work.  So we spent days riding through West Baquba in Stryker Armored vehicles visiting the various projects.  It is a surreal experience to have a normal conversation with someone inside of a large armored vehicle as it flies down the wrong side of the street at oncoming traffic doing about 60-70 miles per hour.  The upside is of course that any head on collision with a car would feel like a speed bump.  The down side is whoever is in the car would stand no chance of survival.  You may wonder why we drive in such a speedy and seemingly reckless manner; the answer is that it is hard to predict our movement patterns and therefore much harder to get us with a roadside bomb (IED, Improvised Explosive Device); and the Iraqis seem used to it.

I was able to visit a power transformer station that was slowly but surely coming back online.  We visited the Diyala Agricultural College that is slowly coming back to life. We stopped at a new health clinic that will bring direct care to thousands of people in Southwest Baquba.  We visited a water pumping station which was not operational.  When the worker was asked why it wasn’t working he told us there was no water in the canal; a lie we discovered when we checked the canal.  It actually turned out he didn’t have the electrical power to operate the pumps, but this highlights a cultural problem I’ll address in a minute. We also visited a water pumping station that was recently destroyed by Al Qaeda which supplied fresh water to almost 20,000 Iraqi farmers.  It will take up to an estimated 6 months to replace the damaged components and structures but the work has started.

Culturally the rebuilding effort is seriously hampered in Iraq do to the mindset of the Iraqis.  Of course it is easy to get frustrated and wonder why they can’t be more like us and show some initiative or efficiency.  However, from their perspective they are doing what comes naturally.  They were raised in a state controlled socialist system where too many complaints could get you shot and recourses were allocated to you.  Not exactly a conducive atmosphere for taking initiative.  They live in a tribal society in which the holding of money and resources is an indication of power and hence enhances your prospects for survival and influence; makes it hard to part with that wealth even if it is to build a school and help your community.  And, there is endemic corruption everywhere which breeds laziness. 

A prime example of the graft was apparent when we went out to inspect two small cranes which the US borrowed from the Electrical Ministry.  When they were returned (and they were returned in working order) the Electrical Ministry claimed that we broke them and demanded we give them $800,000 to repair the damages.  So with a smile on their faces Capt Mundwiel, Maj. Pearson and 1st Lt. Rodriguez took a Mechanical Engineer out to the cranes to inspect them.  The cranes had not moved in months.  The Engineer concluded that the damages were minor, that he could have one working in 24 hours and the other the following day, that the repairs were minimal and that he believed they destroyed easily fixable parts of the crane in order to extort money from the US military.  It was his belief that they had the spare parts to fix the cranes but couldn’t until they received payment or the graft would be apparent. 

This tale of two cranes is not meant to detract from the good work being done; the good far outweighs the bad from graft and it is a story we don’t seem to get back in the states.  There is a lot of reconstruction being done and some very positive infrastructure repair; especially when we were the ones to destroy the infrastructure. It is simply meant to highlight the cultural differences and priorities that separate how we think and work with how many Iraqis think and work.  To the Iraqis graft was more important to their outlook for survival than using the cranes to help rebuild their country.  We find this abhorrent, irresponsible and disgusting; but then we don’t have to live here for the rest of our lives.

1st Lt. Rodriguez seems confident and driven as she starts to take over and she has some good NCO’s working for her like Staff Sergeant Andrew Leiser.  Her degree in Forensic Psychology should help as she deals with foreign personalities.  I wish her all the luck.  She also says hello to her mom, dad and sister in New Jersey.

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