Baghdad is a mess. So why not hire Iraqis to clean up their neighborhoods, with Army Engineers providing whatever heavy equipment and expertise they need to fix the most egregious problems. It turns out they’ve been doing just that since mid-May. But I didn’t hear about it till Virginia Postrel linked to an article in the Engineering News-Record, a construction magazine that seems to have embedded a reporter with the Corps of Engineers.
Since May 15, the 94 th Engineer Battalion has run a task force three times a week. The operation at the soccer stadium reopened that large sports complex to its surrounding neighborhood and inaugurated it with a pair of soccer matches between the locals and the Engineers, who lost, 3-0 and 2-0. Another project centered on assessing and meeting the needs of a hospital, while another cleaned up school buildings and furniture.
Most projects have aimed at mobilizing the energy, skills and talents of people to improve their own communities, with the Engineers providing heavy equipment, cash, security and extra hands as needed. “We’re just trying to jump-start them,” says Martin. Under the previous regime, people were trained to wait for direction from above before acting, and taking initiative with others for local action was discouraged or even punished. Task Force Neighborhood works to reverse that training, and to encourage people to improve their own lives, within their means.
Task Force Neighborhood’s modest costs — mostly for hiring Iraqi laborers — are paid from the $800 million cash found in Saddam’s palaces and elsewhere.
Has anyone seen this story in a major newspaper?