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South Korean Troops Help Rebuild Iraq

Reconstruction in central and southern Iraq has been hindered by the ongoing violence. But in northern Iraq's relatively calm Kurdistan region, some 2,000 South Korean troops are on a mission to help the local population rebuild their way to a brighter future.

Inside the Vocational Training Center at Camp Zaytun, teams of Korean and Kurdish instructors are teaching a class of local men about a car cooling systems.

The auto maintenance program is one of seven offered at Camp Zaytun, in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. The eight-week course will help the men become qualified mechanics, and with the cooperation of the Kurdistan regional government, guarantees them a job when they graduate.

Other vocational programs include baking, computers, and the operation of heavy machinery. Since the Vocational Training Center opened last February, more than 1,000 men and women have graduated.

The Koreans say their philosophy is to teach the local population how to catch a fish, rather than just giving them one.

Ghany Qadir Ahmad is 30 years old. He recently completed the heavy machinery course at Camp Zaytun and was able to raise enough money to buy a small. used bulldozer.

He says he used to be a farmer, earning about $10 a day. Now he earns the enormous sum of $220 per day operating his bulldozer at local construction sites. Ghany says the two months of training at Camp Zaytun have really changed his life.

The Vocational Training Center has been so successful, that the coalition is using it as a model and plans three new centers in other parts of Iraq.

Sergeant First Class Yoohyun Jung is from South Jeolla Province in Korea. He has been in the army for over 10 years and is on a six-month tour in Irbil as an instructor at the Camp's bakery school.

He says his experience in Iraq has been very rewarding and he feels he is doing something good for the Iraqi people as well as for his own country.

The Koreans are also making an impact with their hospital. Since it was established two years ago, it has treated more than 40,000 patients from across northern Iraq.

The 38-bed facility also offers training for local doctors and nurses to improve their medical skills, as well as a mobile clinic that goes to remote areas that lack medical care.

Major General Jung Sun Hwang is the Commander for the Korean mission in Iraq. He says Korea is proud to be a part of the international coalition, and that his own country's experience with war in the 1950s is influencing its work here.

He says Korea suffered a devastating war and the only reason it succeeded economically in its aftermath was because of help from the Allies, including the United States. He says Korea is forever indebted to other countries and they are trying to repay that debt in Iraq.

The South Korean's emphasize that their mission here is one of peace and reconstruction. Their soldiers do not patrol the areas near the base or engage in combat operations. But they do go into the local community as part of their outreach Operation Green Angel program.

Earlier this week, many of Camp Zaytun's soldiers took part in the inaugural ceremony of a girls school in Irbil that they helped build. To the crowds delight, troops dressed in traditional Korean costumes performed folk dances, played music and gave an impressive martial arts show.

The South Koreans say their respect and consideration for the local people, their culture and traditions, has helped them win many hearts, and they feel their mission to foster peace and security in the region has been a success because of that.