However, a celebratory mood was in the air at the dedication ceremony for the new border fort. Streamers flew and a genuine festive and cooperative atmosphere was evident. Ribbons were cut, speeches made and sheep sacrificed as Iraqi government officials, coalition partners and Iraqi contractors shook hands and moved on to opening scores of other new and rehabilitated forts across southern Iraq.
Frontier perimeterThe fort, located near the country’s mountainous eastern border with Iran, is one of over 50 being built in southern Iraq along the country’s borders. In the south, similar forts are being erected along the frontiers of Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The federal government’s Project and Contracting Office (PCO) is responsible for much of the $18.44 billion Congressional supplemental appropriation that is helping rebuild Iraq’s crumbling infrastructure. When the work is done, PCO will have constructed over 2,900 projects. Approximately 200 of these will be border forts and international ports of entry.
“Thanks to the generosity of the American people, Iraq is getting a much needed boost in infrastructure construction,” said PCO director, Major General Daniel Long. “The border forts are essential components that will help the Iraqi government secure their borders from external threats. It is great to see these coming on line.”
“The site was difficult to travel to and almost as difficult to build,” said Mr. a Faydah, the Iraqi border fort contractor. The Basra businessman, who came from a family of contractors and construction professionals, had to overcome the paying of excessive tolls to drive construction materials down the one road to the work site, security threats, and having to buy the land where the fort would eventually sit.
Communications needsMaysoon Tawfik oversees the construction of southern Iraq’s 55 border forts and knows all the challenges and setbacks facing contractors trying to build on the frontier. Tawflik receives telephone calls day and night with updates and questions on an hour-by-hour basis. Since arriving in Iraq over a year ago, she has worked with over 400 contractors and indirectly supervised some 2,200 Iraqi workers. “You wouldn’t believe some of the challenges we have dealt with in building the forts,” she said. “The learning process for us and the contractors was pretty great. Once I finally was able to get to some of the construction sites, I really felt empathy for these guys. I sympathized with them before but didn’t think the obstacles were that great. That was before I went out and saw for myself.
“We’re holding the Iraqi contractors to a high standard, and I am all for doing it this way,” said Tawfik. Tawfik realizes it can be tough for contractors under a project deadline. “When the Iraqi contractor hires local workers – like we are encouraging all contractors to do - he doesn’t always have a large labor pool to pull from.”
However, hiring local Iraqis, long the battle cry of PCO officials, is helping provide jobs for the very poor.
The front doors and the open atrium a few steps inside seem more hospitable than expected for a far-flung outpost along a challenging road adjacent to the Iranian frontier.