In Ramadi, a Counterinsurgency in Cash

The reopening of a ceramics factory that once made toilets, sinks and tiles for Saddam Hussein's palaces is a prime example of how funds from the Commander's Emergency Response Program are being used in Iraq to help reconstruction efforts.
By Dana Hedgpeth and Sarah Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, August 11, 2008

One example widely cited as an effective use of the Commander's Emergency Response Program is Ramadi, the capital of the western Anbar province and a corner of the Sunni Triangle.

The city's long-running violence began to calm by late spring 2007. Local sheiks had agreed to side with Iraqi and U.S. forces and encouraged young men to join the police and military as insurgent attacks were waning. A new counterinsurgency handbook had institutionalized CERP's role, and military leaders told commanders to treat the money as ammunition.

"You had to win their trust," said Army Col. John Charlton, who oversaw U.S. forces in Ramadi at that time. "They see you catching the bad guys, putting them away, and they feel more comfortable that the terrorists aren't going to come back, that you're going to be there to protect them. It isolates the terrorists." By spending CERP money, plus securing areas and patrolling with Iraqi forces, he said, his units got tips on where weapons were hidden. Residents alerted them to plans of suicide attacks or roadside bombs.

In all, Charlton said, CERP spent $87 million in Ramadi during his 15 months there. "We did more to win the counterinsurgency with our CERP dollars than we did with our weapons," he said.

An industrial complex that had once been a major employer in Ramadi had been shuttered because of violence and local instability. Two factories in the complex had employed more than 1,500 workers, and some of the glass and ceramics they made went to supply Saddam Hussein's palaces.

The United States spent more than $500,000 of CERP funds in 11 contracts in 2005 to revive the glass factory. It never opened. The abandoned factory was instead being used as a police recruiting station when it was attacked by a suicide bomber on Jan. 5, 2006, killing at least 70 and contributing to a year of fighting that earned Ramadi a reputation as one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq.

In May 2007, though, troops assessed that the situation had improved enough to try to reopen the ceramics factory.

CERP money would allow the factory to reopen and employ hundreds of Iraqis.

"It was an iconic symbol to try to reopen the ceramics plant," said Marine Col. John A. Koenig, who helped manage big-dollar projects in Anbar. "It meant a return of normalcy. It was a psychological impact."

Earlier attempts to reopen the ceramics factory had failed for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest challenges was the lack of reliable electricity in Ramadi to run the plant, according to Bill Marks, a chief engineer for the Air Force who helped oversee the reopening of the factory under Charlton. Plus, there was difficulty getting Iraq's central government in Baghdad to pony up some money to help, military leaders said.

But Charlton and his troops had access to CERP money. It took him two weeks to get the approval he needed to spend roughly $2 million on new generators and other parts and materials. Another Pentagon program to revive state-owned entities in Iraq chipped in about $900,000 to send a handful of Iraqi workers to Italy for training on the kilns and other equipment. Iraqi authorities put in $6 million. By the winter, the government-owned plant reopened.

Charlton left in April. Since then, the plant's Iraqi managers have been struggling.

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