Getting Iraq To Work
By Jim Golby
Sunday, October 14, 2007; B01
Outside TIKRIT, Iraq
I'm sick of hearing about all the horrible things that
happen in Iraq without ever hearing about any of the good
ones. That's not because horrible things don't occur here
every day; they do. I've witnessed far more death and
sadness than I wish anyone ever had to see. And it's not
because I believe in some left-wing media conspiracy. If I'm
affiliated with a political party at all, I honestly can't
remember which one it is.
Rather, I'm sick of hearing about all the horrible things
that happen in Iraq because I've been deployed here for more
than 24 months since this war began, and I think I have a
story to tell that's heroic, maybe even noble. It's not my
story. In fact, I'm quite average, and I'm certainly not
noble. But I've been blessed to serve with some amazing
officers, noncommissioned officers and soldiers who have
sacrificed another 15 months away from their families --
and, for once, produced something that I don't think looks
all that bad, even in this desolate country.
Over the last six months, I've served at a large U.S. base
in Iraq. My soldiers and I have been responsible for
securing the area around the main entrance. We've played a
major role in protecting thousands of soldiers and civilians
who reside on the base. That's a significant accomplishment
in itself, even though it's not sexy, and it has required a
lot of discipline and dedication from my troops to do it so
But this past summer, we accomplished something else that
seems to me almost unequivocally good.
In April, I began working with a group on an initiative that
the U.S. government calls the IBIZ. As adept as most of us
in the military are at deciphering acronyms that would
befuddle the average man, we couldn't figure this one out. I
think my first sergeant guessed closest, hypothesizing that
it stood for "Iraq's Big-Ass Iguana Zoo." Unfortunately,
IBIZ involves no arboreal lizards. It stands for "Iraqi
Business and Industrial Zone."
This is an initiative intended to give Iraqi companies
better access to U.S. contracts, establish security to let
Iraqi companies develop, and train individual Iraqis in
skills such as carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. It
consists of a contracting office, two Iraqi industrial
plants -- one for producing concrete and the other for
crushing rock into gravel -- alongside a shipping and
receiving yard and a skills training area. It also has the
potential to save the U.S. government a significant amount
of money by using cheaper Iraqi labor for many jobs usually
performed by other contracted foreign nationals.
That's it? you say. That's all we get? Plumbers? Carpenters?
I understand your frustration. It's not the stuff of a
box-office hit or a gripping novel. But it's heroic. And
it's noble, and I'll tell you why.
Every day, soldiers here pull duty in numerous defensive
fighting positions or in guard towers, risking their lives
for this idea called IBIZ. Our soldiers run the access
control and security systems that screen the Iraqis and the
thousands of other personnel and vehicles that come through
here each week. Or they sit in up-armored Humvees and
oversee contractors who construct fences or barriers around
the new concrete plant and rock crusher.
And, for once, it really seems to be about Iraqi freedom.
I'm often surprised that many Iraqis still take us
seriously. They see the news and listen to us lament the
nearly 4,000 U.S. troops who have died while forgetting the
far greater tragedy to Iraqis. I have to admit that I was
shocked at what I saw when I arrived back here this year for
my second tour. If the local electricity, water or
sanitation systems had improved, I couldn't tell; meanwhile,
the base where I was living had grown threefold and was much
cozier than the two smaller bases where I had lived just 20
Several Iraqis I talked to at the time expressed genuine
concern about how much better Americans were living in Iraq
than Iraqis themselves. But then things started to change.
It didn't happen as quickly as I would have liked, but some
Iraqis started to see that some things might be improving
for them, too.
They saw some construction begin and heard a few comments
from several U.S. soldiers about 35 good jobs that would be
starting near the base. Many villagers probably wrote this
off as another failed U.S. promise, but the construction
continued and the talk grew more concrete. Finally, the
project actually opened, and nearly 100 Iraqis lined up to
compete for those jobs.
For once, Iraqis see hope and money, and they want both
In the first month after the contracting office opened in
June, the Iraqi contracts in the province jumped by more
than 20 percent and nearly $4 million. Villagers watched two
Iraqi-owned plants go up in a semi-secure area in less than
two months, grabbing several enormous contracts that
typically would have gone to better-positioned Turkish
firms. And 35 residents from four small villages received
apprenticeships for on-the-job training as carpenters,
plumbers and electricians, jobs that provide lunch and a
decent salary by Iraqi standards.
Now, when we tell them to expect an additional 85 jobs this
winter when we expand the IBIZ skills training program to
include welders, small-engine mechanics and air conditioner
repairmen, Iraqis are more likely to believe us, even though
it might be a different "us" after my unit rotates out of
I'm the one who receives the glowing appreciation and the
e-mail invitation to lunch from an Iraqi contractor in
broken English for what we've done with IBIZ, but my
soldiers are the heroes. And they deserve the credit.
They're not the only ones, of course. Dozens of other
officers, soldiers, civilian contractors, linguists and
airmen on the base have played a crucial role in making this
concept a reality. Some of them balked at it initially
because they thought it too great a security risk, creating
a magnet for attacks; others openly opposed it. But in the
end, the idea prevailed because it was a good one. It may
even turn out to be a great one.
And of course, there are the Iraqis working at or with the
Here are some remarks sent to me recently by the Iraqi who
owns one of the industrial plants:
"We and each honorable Iraqi should not forget each drop of
blood that the US military dropped it for our sake to put us
in right way to life and we should know that we owe much for
the US people."
Those words made me proud. At the same time, I realize that
therein lies the problem. Iraqis owe much, possibly too
much, to the American people and the U.S. military. The
contracts are all U.S. government contracts, the security is
all provided by U.S. soldiers, and the jobs are all
dependent on massive U.S. military bases. If they weren't
receiving U.S. support, these Iraqis wouldn't have many
options. And if the U.S. presence fades, the Iraqi plumbers,
carpenters and electricians will face a stark decision:
leave the country with their families and their new skills,
or fight so that their tribe or sect or village will get
some share of the remaining oil revenue.
The IBIZ is only one small tactical victory in need of a
much larger strategic or political triumph. Some scholars
and foreign policy experts claim that one of the major
lessons of Vietnam is that tactical victories do not equal
success at the strategic or political level. They may be
correct, but the politicians who quote them often fail to
mention that tactical victories don't necessarily preclude
strategic victories, either. Gen. David H. Petraeus and
Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker are courageous men who believe
that we are making progress. When they say that, I believe
them because I, too, can finally see some results. I just
hope that the investment in projects such as IBIZ hasn't
come too late to make a lasting difference.
In a few years, I'll have the opportunity to examine how we
won or lost this war while I study public policy in graduate
school. No doubt, I'll uncover mistakes that our government,
politicians and military leaders made over the first few
years. But for now, I am up far too late at night, worried
about maintaining discipline and accomplishing my mission as
my soldiers and I finish our tour.
As I drift off, I think of my wife and two daughters waiting
at home. And I see once again the strange combination of
hope and desperation in those Iraqis' eyes on that first day
of work. Then I see the fatigue on many of my soldiers'
faces as I pin awards on their chests. They are noble, and
they are heroes. And I am immensely proud of what I did with
them in Iraq last summer.
Jim Golby is an Army captain on his second tour of duty in
This article reflects his personal views and does not
represent the official position of the U.S. military or the
Department of Defense.
Jim Golby will discuss his article at 1 p.m. Tuesday at