U.S. Soldiers Tackle Dual Mission in Iraqi City
U.S. troops have a dual mission in Mahmudiyah: win the support
of the Iraqi people and repair the water and electrical systems.
By U.S. Army 1st Lt. Brett Matzenbacher
2nd Brigade Combat Team
101st Airborne Division
BAGHDAD, April 24, 2006 — Known as the “Gateway to Baghdad,” the city of Mahmudiyah is centrally located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, roughly 30 kilometers south of the Iraqi capital. Because of its location, the small city of 80,000 people is also at the center of the coalition’s counterterrorism campaign.
The battle to win the support of the people of this region has been continuous for the U.S. soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Multinational Division–Baghdad, since arriving in October –- and it has not been without results.
“It is a pretty disturbing sight to see an acre of what used to be open lots for kids to play soccer in literally flooded with raw sewage, especially when you talk to local residents and discover that things have been this way for five years in some areas, but, that’s reality. So, with the assistance of the local Ministry of Sewer, we will develop a plan to fix it.”
U.S. Army Maj. Eric McFadden
“When we first got here, there were quite a few roads that were extremely dangerous to travel on but have now become much more secure,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. James Williams, former platoon leader, Company D, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment. “Units used to be shuffled in and out of here fairly often, so they never got a chance to become familiar with the local citizens. Now that we’ve been here a while, I think the relationships we’ve been able to build have gone a long way in improving the security.”
In fact, the soldiers’ efforts have been so successful that the governor of Baghdad stated that the city of Mahmudiyah is the safest he has seen it since the war began in 2003.
“We must continue to capitalize on this improved security situation,” said U.S. Army Maj. Eric McFadden, project manager, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. “Insurgencies are spawned by the discontent of the population. When we first arrived, the citizens of this area were without running, potable water and were receiving only four hours of electricity per day.”
Repairs to the water networks have been completed, said U.S. Army Maj. Paul Schmidt, civil military operations officer, 2nd Brigade Combat Team. The projects have increased electrical output to more than 10 hours of service per day.
“These are major accomplishments, and I’m sure they have contributed to the improved security situation – but we still have a long way to go,” Schmidt said.
The projects have focused on returning fresh water and electricity to the surrounding areas of Mahmudiyah. Now that the efforts are under way, a new priority has emerged, that of cleaning up the area.
Local contractors work to restore a water-pumping station in southern Baghdad, April 8, 2006. Restoring water, electricity and repairing sewage lines in the Mahmudiyah area has become an essential part of rebuilding Iraq. U.S. Army photo courtesy of 2nd Brigade Combat Team
Because of severe mismanagement and neglect at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s regime, many of the sewage-pumping facilities have utterly failed, resulting in massive sewage backups, some of which have flooded local streets and neighborhoods.
“It is a pretty disturbing sight to see an acre of what used to be open lots for kids to play soccer in literally flooded with raw sewage,” McFadden said, “especially when you talk to local residents and discover that things have been this way for five years in some areas, but, that’s reality. So, with the assistance of the local Ministry of Sewer, we will develop a plan to fix it.”
There are four ongoing projects in Mahmudiyah to alleviate the sewage problem, said McFadden.
“Right now, we are cleaning and renovating several of the existing pumping stations. Once this is done, we can take a look at the actual underground sewage network and see what improvements or repairs need to be made there,” he said.
This work has already paid dividends. The cleaning of the sewage pump stations in several neighborhoods has drastically improved the drainage situation.
“In the past, when it rained, the streets here would turn into stagnant pools because the water could not drain,” Williams said.
After one recent storm, this problem was noticeably less severe.
“The sewer system is much less backed up,” Williams said, “allowing rain water to drain and preventing the roads from turning into miniature rivers. It’s a small step, but definitely a sign of progress.”
“This is not going to happen overnight, but the work we are doing here in conjunction with the local Iraqi ministries will dramatically enhance the quality of life for the people of Mahmudiyah,” McFadden said. “This is our goal. People who are content with their situation are not going support insurgents who are working towards an opposite goal.”