By Joan Kibler
Middle East District
WINCHESTER, Va. – In seven years starting in 2004, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed more than 5,000 projects with a value of $8.8 billion in Iraq. The construction program was crucial in the efforts to secure a new and reliable government for Iraq.
Today, the Government of Iraq and the United States enjoy bilateral relations based on mutual goals.
The arrangement – known as the Strategic Framework Agreement for a Relationship of Friendship and Cooperation between the United States and the Republic of Iraq – is designed to help the Iraqi people stand on their own and reinforce Iraq sovereignty while protecting U.S. interests, according to the U.S. Embassy-Iraq website.
Though the construction program is a fraction of what it once was, USACE remains committed to delivering projects that support the nation’s sovereignty through the Middle East District’s Iraq Area Office.
“Our role is to deliver infrastructure that contributes to stability and security,” said Lt. Col. Anthony Mitchell, officer in charge, Iraq Area Office. The primary customers are the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq and the Iraq Strategic Partnership Office; both are part of the U.S. Embassy-Iraq.
“All of our projects – whether providing equipment for the Basrah Children’s Hospital to benefit Iraqi people or constructing C-130 aircraft facilities to reinforce Iraq’s national security – contribute to Iraq being a sovereign nation and a strategic partner for the United States,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell has served as the officer in charge since July 2011 and will soon depart Iraq. In the past year he has seen dramatic changes.
“When I took this job, I understood the intent was to complete the last remaining projects from the major reconstruction program and to get them done before December 2011,” Mitchell said. “In addition, when I arrived, there were a few Foreign Military Sales projects that had gotten started. I expected that my team – the newly formed Iraq Area Office – would finish the work within a year and that I’d be the last entity representing USACE in Iraq.”
But that didn’t turn out to be the case.
While Mitchell started with an area office having approximately 45 military and civilians managing a $700 million program, including projects in the warranty phase, he will finish his tour with less than one-third that number of people managing a $350 million program, excluding any potential work. Similarly, the area office had nearly 120 Iraqi citizens assisting with carrying out the construction program. Today, there’s one-third that number.
A year ago, about a third of the USACE program was FMS. Today, it’s nearly half. FMS is a component of the Defense Department’s security assistance program, which supports regional stability and mutual goals between the United States and its allies.
Mitchell predicts USACE will continue to support operations in Iraq for another two to three years, and most of that support will be for FMS projects aimed at strengthening Iraq air defense, ground and maritime capabilities.
Building defensive capacity
The FMS program falls under the OSC-I, which continues to develop the relationship between the U.S. military and the Iraq military – previously the responsibility of U.S. Forces-Iraq.
“Our active FMS projects are aimed at better equipping the Iraq Ministries of Interior and Defense to protect that nation from internal and external threats,” said Douglas Harold Plachy, program manager forward for FMS work.
Plachy is credited with coordinating the planning, design and construction of $700 million of FMS cases for Iraq. Sixteen FMS projects are under contract, totaling $166.8 million, and all are funded by Iraq. Many other projects are in the planning stages or being processed in accordance with FMS program requirements.
One of the earliest projects was the $181 million border roads project constructed for the Ministry of Interior. “This has been one of our most successful projects,” Plachy said. “USACE designed roads around the critical points of Iraq’s border for security, and they’re divided into segments for construction. Two of the three contracts finished early, and the quality of work is quite good.”
Another showcase project – also for the Ministry of Interior – is the General Directorate of Counterterrorism facility in eastern Baghdad. The $18.4 million project includes an office building, headquarters, barracks, warehouse, and a power generator facility and is expected to be complete by June 2013.
Six FMS projects are underway to strengthen Iraq’s defensive capabilities. These projects support the Iraq Ministry of Defense and its Air Force.
“While OSC-I is our direct customer for FMS work, we also work with the U.S. Air Force Materiel Command for projects that support the Iraq Air Force,” said Joseph Zaraszczak, branch chief within Programs and Project Management Division.
The district is working with AFMC to provide facilities for F-16 aircraft to be stationed at Al-Asad Air Base. “A portion of the existing facilities will be renovated, while there will be a significant amount of new construction, with facilities estimated at nearly $300 million,” said Patrick Tilque, FMS Iraq project manager.
In a much smaller FMS case for AFMC, the district is renovating facilities to accommodate C-130 aircraft on the New Muthana Air Base in Baghdad. “This $3 million case will allow the Iraq Air Force to maintain the aircraft and store spare parts,” Tilque said.
Other FMS projects include a $28 million military training complex at Al-Harthiya, a $5.6 million military security school in Taji, a $21 million contract to provide facilities – such as administrative offices, security, and dining facilities – at Hawk and Tikrit Air Bases (also for AFMC), and a $23 million contract to expand military outposts in Al-Anbar province.
Plachy said the FMS program is generally progressing well. “Iraq is a sovereign country trying to move ahead. USACE enjoys good relations with the military officers with the Ministry of Defense and Iraq Air Force. The work isn’t easy, but we get it done.”
The Iraq Area Office manages another contract to support OSC-I operations, outside of the FMS program. A $55 million contract provides overhead covers at existing facilities in various locations to protect military and civilian personnel.
Strengthening programs that benefit Iraqi people
The Middle East district has supported Department of State programs for several years. Today’s work includes just over a dozen projects, valued at $124 million, remaining from the major construction program as well as new initiatives.
The projects fall into two categories:
• Iraq Security Forces Fund projects, which support Iraq Security Forces in reaching their minimum essential capabilities; many of these projects were completed before U.S. forces departed on Dec. 31, 2011, but a few remain.
• Economic Support Fund projects, which support establishing governance reforms at the local, provincial and national levels of government, as well as strengthening the private sector economy.
David Schmidt, program manager forward for State Department projects, works directly with the Iraq Strategic Partnership Office to accomplish and closeout projects.
“Two of our most prominent projects are for the Ministry of Health: at Basrah Children’s Hospital and at the Maysan Hospital,” Schmidt said. “At the children’s hospital, work includes facilities operation and maintenance through an architect-engineer contract and procurement of additional medical equipment. This is the first hospital in Iraq dedicated to the treatment of cancer in children.”
The continued assistance is important because U.S. and donor countries have invested more than $166 million to construct and equip Basrah Children’s Hospital. The Maysan Hospital will also provide critical care for Iraqi citizens since it is being built in a governorate where there is an acute lack of medical facilities, Schmidt said. The $12 million hospital will have 80 patient beds, an emergency department, two physician resident buildings, and supporting infrastructure.
In another high-visibility project, “The district continues to support the Fallujah waste-water treatment plant by providing operations and maintenance support and training for the staff that operates it,” Schmidt said. “In addition, we oversee a Department of State grant to the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works for house connections and construction of a trunk line and pump station at the waste-water treatment plant.”
Because the U.S. government has invested $108 million in the construction of this system, the follow-on actions associated with the plant are critical for its operation, Schmidt said. The project proved difficult to build over a seven-year period because of insurgent activity. The plant ultimately will serve approximately 100,000 residents of the city of Fallujah, which did not have a sewer system before this project was built.
The Middle East District also oversees a second grant – to the Ministry of Electricity at Mussaib Power Plant for the commissioning of two units. Once completed, this project will increase electrical power to Baghdad.
The district is managing several other projects in various stages, all slated to be finished by September 2013.
Change is the only constant.
As his Iraq tour comes to an end, Mitchell said that USACE will continue to shape its presence to meet customer requirements.
The Iraq Area Office will likely transition to a smaller organizational structure operating from central Baghdad with project offices located with the work. The office will maintain its core of Iraqi citizens providing construction management services.
“The Iraqi citizens are crucial to our ability to deliver construction projects,” Mitchell said. “They know our processes, our quality standards, and our safety practices. They have pride and ownership in their work.
“As our mission phases down here, there is nothing that pleases me more than to see them moving on, to jobs in industry or with the ministries, better prepared because of what they learned while working with USACE. Developing the engineering capacity is an important contribution to stability in Iraq.
“I’m most proud of our ability to deliver projects,” Mitchell said. “Every project completion is a victory. Every project completed benefits Iraqi people and represents our contribution to Iraq’s stability.”