Friday, February 19, 2010

Press Conference Reveals Progress in Babil

Maj. Jim Hathaway, operations officer for the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, speaks to Iraqi media during a press conference at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, Feb. 15, 2010. The 2nd Bn., 69th AR have been working with the Babil Provincial Reconstruction Team to rebuild Iraq's essential services and stimulate economic growth.

By Spc. Samuel Soza, 367th MPAD

Key leaders with the Babil Provincial Reconstruction Team and the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, held a press conference Feb. 15, 2010, at Forward Operating Base Kalsu, to present U.S. personnel to the Iraqi media and discuss current and future efforts in rebuilding Iraq's essential services.

"It's important to keep an open relationship with the people of Iraq," said Maj. Jim Hathaway, operations officer with the 2nd Bn., 69th AR, during his opening remarks.

After Hathaway Rick Roberts, Babil PRT team leader, spoke.

"We are meeting not just as friends but as partners," he said, "And like all friends and partners, we need to talk."

The PRT coordinates and leads reconstruction in Iraq by communicating with the U.S. Department of State, the military, the United States Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Departments of Justice, Agriculture and Treasury, said Roberts.

"All our efforts focus toward stability, security, and prosperity," he said.

According to Roberts, the PRT has helped to complete more than 2,400 projects totaling nearly $155 million in the Babil Province.

These efforts ranged from micro-grants for farmers and widows to help them create or improve various industries, to multimillion dollar projects, such as the construction of a new local courthouse.

"It's a record worthy of note," he said.

The 2nd Bn., 69th AR have also completed four projects totaling over $1 million during their three months in Iraq, according to Hathaway.

They partners are now focusing on the 13 ongoing projects that total nearly $2.8 million and have 21 planned projects that focus on providing micro-loans for budding businesses and highway safety projects that facilitate the movement of commerce throughout the region.

These projects have made products more readily available to the people, reduced reliance on imported goods and, most importantly, generated jobs, said Roberts.

He also said that there have been efforts to encourage investment, such as a recent tourism conference a few months ago.

Babil Province is crossed by the Euphrates River and is home to the ruins of ancient Babylon. One of SaddamHussein's massive palaces overlooks the ruins.

Area studies are being done to establish how best to use the site, according to Roberts.
"Whatever happens, it will be an Iraqi decision, not ours," he said.

Investments are important to the future of Babil province, Roberts said.

Speaking about the industrial sector, he said that, although there have been projects aimed at maintaining existing infrastructure, the majority of investment opportunities lie within the private sector.

This sentiment was expressed often when Roberts began taking questions from Iraqi reporters.

Aside from funding for healthcare, childcare, residential housing and even development of the media, he noted the loans that have been made available for business ventures.

The reporters also asked about plans to provide reliable electricity. Roberts replied that the issue has been a challenge for a number of years.

"Is there anything big or hard for Americans to do?" said one journalist.

In light of the drawdown of U.S. forces, Roberts said that the one major hurdle is time.

"We will probably cease to function in Iraq in about 18 months," he said.

Once that time is up, Roberts hopes to have something tangible to show for it.

"The only monument we've wanted to leave is to see the people better off," said Roberts, "Freer and more secure."

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