Friday, March 7, 2008

Coalition Forces Make a Difference for “starfish”

Multi-National Division - Center

BAGHDAD — The tale is familiar. Thousands of starfish are beached on the shore after a turbulent Nor’easter. A young boy races to the water’s edge and flings a single starfish into the sea. He repeats his action again and again. An elderly gentleman seeing this, admonishes the boy saying, “Don’t you realize there are thousands of starfish? You will be overwhelmed. You will never be able to save them all.” The boy, in his innocence replied, “That may be so. But I will make a difference for this one,” and he threw it into the waves.

The mission of Task Force Marne in the Multi-National Division – Center area of operation is the interdiction of accelerants before they reach Baghdad. Waging war on enemy elements is a priority; 3rd Infantry Division Soldiers pursue extremists relentlessly, eliminating their safe havens and resources.

With extremists on the run, coalition forces are pursuing a counterinsurgency strategy focused not only on combat measures but the reconstruction of Iraq from the ground up.

Marne Fortitude II, Task Force Marne’s capacity-building measures are focused on economics and governance to revitalize communities, rebuild infrastructure, foster long-term entrepreneurial initiatives and reach out to help those least able to help themselves.

“In other conflicts, American Soldiers won the affection of local residents by offering small gifts, candy bars, cigarettes, nylons, MREs (meals ready to eat),” said Brig. Gen. Edward Cardon, MND-C deputy commanding general for support. “Here and now the projects we are involved in have lasting value to the Iraqi people.

“The Iraqis know that is not al-Qaida’s way. General Lynch’s ‘Starfish’ are something uniquely American; they offer real value to the people and communities of Iraq,” Cardon said.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch has designated several projects as “Starfish,” deserving of special attention to achieve measureable success that will impact the Iraqi people by the end of the 3rd ID’s deployment in June, 2008.

Not all of the projects are centered on development. In the town of Adwaniyah, MND-C Soldiers have adopted the cause of a young girl with a rare blood disorder, beta thalassemia major. The girl, Shrooq Shikir, is awaiting a bone marrow transplant. Soldiers are currently assisting Shrooq’s family with the process of testing and screening potential bone marrow donors. When that is done, Shrooq will be enrolled in the NAIC and receive a bone marrow transplant that could place her on the road to recovery.

In Narwhan, east of Baghdad, a brick factory was at one time a major employer in the region, until war shut the plant down and thousands were put out of work. MND-C civil affairs staff identified the factory as a potential major boon for the regional economy, and have since concentrated on restoring the complex with its many kilns, securing a steady supply of the heavy fuel oil used in firing bricks, improving the electrical supply to the factory and surrounding town, and providing veterinary care to a 2,000-strong stable of donkeys used to transport materials around the complex.

Iraq is a country in need of rebuilding on a massive scale, and demand for bricks and construction materials is high. Operating now at 20 percent capacity, the complex employs 2,500 people. If the factories and kilns can be made fully operational, nearly 7,500 people can return to work.

Sayafiyah is the recipient of focused efforts to revitalize the community after its devastation by al-Qaida. Coalition forces are developing Sayafiyah into a self-sustaining agricultural community. Major investments of funds and labor are focused on infrastructure improvements including water purification and pump station projects. There are school projects and a significant electrical upgrade for the town. On the health front, the Sayafiyah Clinic project is expected to be complete by April 30 and mobile medical teams will begin area support to the Sayafiyah community.

Agricultural aid to Sayafiyah comes in the form of seed distributed to farmers on Feb. 28, formation of a farmers union and chicken and fish farm revitalization through distribution of micro grants. A Ministry of Agriculture vet clinic restock and refurbishment program is underway in partnership with the government of Iraq.

As with other communities, including Salman Pak, a governance center will be redeveloped. That center will house a newly-formed council and is envisioned to be a center of activity for a Nahia Women’s Committee now in formation.

In the village of Hawr Rajab, coalition forces are working alongside Iraqi contractors to revitalize a community that was ravaged by al-Qaida in Iraq violence. The first step was a program to rebuild and renovate houses that had been destroyed by AQI, allowing residents who were displaced by violence to return home. With the success of the Sons of Iraq security volunteer program, however, home-building segued into more general community enhancement projects, with Sons of Iraq members transitioning into the Civil Service Corps. These workers, trained in building trades, are now working to restore Hawr Rajab to the vibrant community it once was, repairing roads and cleaning up debris, among other projects. Together these efforts earned Hawr Rajab the nickname, among MND-C staff, “the village of hope.”

In northern Babil province, the city of Iskandariyah is shaping up as one of the premier examples of Iraq’s industrial potential. Situated in the city is the Iskandariyah Industrial Complex, a cluster of two state-owned factories and a vocational-technical school open to Iraqi men and women wanting to learn job skills and trades. If it were in the United States, the IIC would be recognized as a business incubator, dedicated to birthing and nurturing young start-up businesses. It has the space required for manufacturing, research and development, and administration for young and established enterprises. At the same time, the vo-tech is intended to produce a steady stream of qualified workers for the industries and business, providing a further base of economic stability in a region that is already among the most peaceful in Iraq.

The ancient city of Salman Pak, site of Sumerian-era relics such as the Arch of Csestiphon, was ravaged during years of fighting as al-Qaida insurgents developed a safe haven there from which to raid neighboring towns. Coalition security offensives conducted over the past eight months have uprooted al-Qaida and largely cleared the area of insurgents. Now MND-C Soldiers and civilians are involved in projects to return the city to its more recent history as a resort and market town. A new government center was opened to host local governing councils, the courthouse was renovated, and the downtown marketplace revitalized.

In the “Sunni Triangle” villages of Yusifiyah and Mahmudiyah, water is a precious commodity for the large population of farmers. Here coalition forces are working to get clean water flowing through the region again by repairing the Qa Qa Water Treatment Plant.

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