American Money Fuels Iraqi Infrastructure-Special to Hawaii Reporter

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    ‘This is part one of a three part series about reconstruction efforts in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq with approximately 2 million residents.’

    This is part one of a three part series about reconstruction efforts in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq with approximately 2 million residents.


    Outside a small shop in the Tel a Ruman area of Mosul, Staff Sgt. Mitko Dintcheff, surrounded by neighborhood residents and shopkeepers, gestures towards a two-foot deep ditch that extends along the side of the road for several blocks.

    “James Johnson waterline ditch centered”

    The ditch, a $30,000 project awarded by the US to a local contractor, is meant to house a new, larger water line for the neighborhood. However, the work is slow. The contractor only works on the project one day a week, leaving the open ditch, and anxious residents who look forward to the increased water service the new pipes will provide.

    That signals a potential problem for U.S. interests, and Dintcheff takes a few pictures of the street to include in a report that will have to be investigated.

    On this mission, called a Project Oversight Patrol, a team of Civil Affairs and Engineer Officers work with the Hawaii-based 130th Engineer Brigade. The purpose is to ensure that American dollars are being spent correctly, that Iraqi contractors are getting their projects done on time, and are able to work in what is often a violent environment.

    “One of the things that is known to happen after we visit [the contractors], because everyone else can see that we’re visiting that project site, is some of our contractors have been approached and told ‘you can’t work here’,” said Project Purchasing Officer Lt. Joel Ellis. “They are threatened or extorted.”

    That situation happened just two weeks ago.

    “A contractor was approached by two guys and the contractor could tell they were not from the area. They said they were from some Muslim faction, and told [the contractor] that if they came back to work, they’d be killed,” said Ellis “[the two men] gave them their contact number, and told to settle it up with [the faction] before returning to work.

    That number was immediately turned over to U.S. officials. Reporting threats is a contract requirement for Iraqi contractors who execute U.S. funded projects.

    The money for these projects comes from the Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP). Initially funded by gold and American currency seized during the invasion in 2003, the program now uses appropriated Department of Defense funds. Local U.S. Army commanders have the discretion to approve projects costing under $50,000, while more expensive projects require higher authorization. The current annual CERP budget stands at $15 million, which is less than it has been in the past.

    CERP funds can only be used to help the Iraqi people and are restricted from being used to support the Iraqi Army or Iraqi police forces. They are meant for critical infrastructure shortfalls which can be rapidly remedied.

    “A benefit of CERP funds is that they can only go to Iraqi contractors,” said Capt. Holly Grey of the 130th Eng. Bde. “These local contractors meet certain background requirements to ensure the U.S. isn’t funding insurgency.”

    While insurgency is on the decline, the threat of violence still exists.

    In the Dowoud Asseyed neighborhood in West Mosul, Ellis performs an initial assessment for a project to improve a sports stadium and repair damage caused four months ago when a car bomb ripped a large hole in the wall that surrounds the facility.

    “James Johnson mosul stadium centered”

    West Mosul has been and continues to be the most active part of the city for improvised explosive devices and other violence. However, those attacks are declining just as they are in every area of Mosul. That makes it easier for the U.S. to get good contractors for a project and enforce the contracts.

    “[In 2004] I would try to get contracts, and only one contractor would bid on the West side,” said Lt. Col. Mary Prophit, a civil affairs officer who is now serving her second deployment to Mosul. “So it was very difficult to be successful. To help them get something done and rebuild something was extremely difficult.”

    Prophit added that it was difficult during her first deployment even to contact members of the government, who were hesitant to meet with Americans because that made them a target for violence. “Now it’s a completely different experience,” she said.

    At the sports stadium, a few dozen boys perform soccer drills, and seem uninterested by the American soldiers. A caretaker for the facility, however, excitedly points and rattles off suggestions for improvement. On the list is to fill in the crater lying just below a partially rebuilt wall–a reminder of the recent attack.

    ‘Photos and report by James Johnson, a Hawaii Reporter journalist embedded in Iraq. Reach him at’