U.S. military engineers in Baghdad have begun work on restarting the city's main power plants. Iraqi officials shut down the plants nearly three weeks ago, when coalition forces began advancing rapidly toward the capital. American engineers are working closely with Iraqis to restore power.
With the fighting phase of the war nearly over in Baghdad, the U.S. military is shifting its focus on bringing essential services such as power and water back to the city of more than five million people, as soon as possible.
Three days ago, U.S. military civil affairs officers located nearly a dozen senior employees of the city's three main power stations. On Monday, those employees helped U.S. military commanders and Army engineers conduct a survey of the plants.
Restoring electrical power is the highest priority for the U.S. Army right now. The city depends on electric pumps to get the water running, and without water, officials worry that Baghdad could soon face a serious health crisis.
The U.S. Army general in charge of overseeing post-war rehabilitation projects in Baghdad is Brigadier General Steven Hawkins. From what he has seen, he believes the power plants are mostly undamaged. But he has discovered that making each plant operational again may be more complicated than his engineers had anticipated.
"This power plant needs to have a kicker power, or an auxiliary power units start, so we are going to the grain elevator that has a power system that can be turned on," he said. "We want to get that turned on so that we can get the power lead over here to get this plant turned on."
During the first Gulf War in 1991, U.S. and allied planes bombed more than 700 targets in Iraq, including power plants, to debilitate Iraq's army. Coalition forces did not target the plants this time.
But the lingering damage of the first Gulf War and more than a decade of U.N. sanctions have prevented the power plants from operating at full capacity. Hours-long blackouts were not uncommon in various parts of the capital.
General Hawkins says getting the power plants to generate at full capacity may take a little more time. But he expects power to be restored in some areas by the end of the week.
And the general insists bringing power back is just the beginning. He says coalition forces are determined to repair and rehabilitate as much of Iraq's fragile infrastructure as possible.
"It's been fragile for a very long time and we're going to bring it up to the best of our ability so that people have power and they have water, and they have medical support," he said.
The name of the coalition's post-war rehabilitation project is called Task Force Fajur. Translated from Arabic, Fajur means first light. Millions of Baghdad residents are waiting to see that first electrical light turn on in the coming days.