Reconstruction efforts in Iraq are moving forward in spite of continuing violence. These projects, supported by international donor funds, also employ thousands of Iraqi workers and provide contracts to Iraqi companies with expertise often developed overseas. VOA correspondent Greg Flakus has the story of one such project being coordinated from Houston.
From their office in Houston, Subhi and Mohammed Khudairi work closely with their father, Aziz, to coordinate a variety of businesses and projects in their homeland of Iraq. They make frequent visits to Iraq, but carry out much of their work from here. Aziz chose Houston as a base because of the city's many energy companies and because he wanted his sons to be educated in the United States.
Their educations would allow Subhi and Mohammed to take high-paying corporate jobs here, but they have dedicated themselves to the family business because they believe the end of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship has given Iraq the chance for a new beginning.
Mohammed Khudairi says last month's election was a proud moment that confirmed their faith in the country.
"We feel that the election was a step in the right direction,” he said. “We feel that the money being spent to rebuild Iraq is very gracious on the part of countries around the world, particularly the United States, and we try to build on those strides."
The Khudairi Group recently won a contract from the city of Baghdad to replace 40 kilometers of old, rusty pipe in two mahallas, or zones, where residents had complained of contaminated drinking water. The U.S. Army 1st Cavalry's 8th Engineer Battalion is overseeing the work in Baghdad, but Lieutenant Colonel Brian Dosa, speaking to VOA by phone from Baghdad, says it is really an Iraqi project.
"The actual work for all projects is actually done by Iraqis, Iraqi contractors and Iraqi workers, and the day-to-day supervision and control is also done by Iraqis," he said.
Colonel Dosa says the U.S. military role is that of a supervising manager. He says he and his men visit the project site only once a week or so and that the idea of employing Iraqis is established even before a contractor is selected.
"We asked the companies that, as part of their proposal, to give us the plan on how they would hire local laborers from the community, because we understand that it is important to not only do infrastructure projects, but to also employ as many people as possible," he added.
Subhi Khudairi says his family's company, with its years of experience in Iraq and the Middle East, was well positioned to handle both the sub-contracting of work on site and the difficult logistical task of getting pipes and other supplies delivered over the border from Turkey.
"I think, overall, you have a very healthy mix of players,” he said. “You have a local Iraqi contractor, you have the Iraqi leadership, local leadership, working hand-in-hand with the U.S. Army to complete a project."
The $2 million water system restoration should be completed by the first week of April. Subhi Khudairi says he would like to see other Iraqi expatriates getting involved in the vital reconstruction of their homeland.
"I just hope that more Iraqis throughout the world have the same sentiment and have the same leap of faith that we do and know that if we all put our efforts and our minds in rebuilding the country, band our talents in rebuilding the country, that Iraq will eventually prosper," he said.
More than 100 Iraqis are currently employed on the water project in Baghdad, which is one of many being carried out all across Iraq. In March, Colonel Dosa and the 1st Cavalry will hand off the job of supervising completion of the project to the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry. The 1st Cavalry will then return to their base at Fort Hood, Texas.