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Thousands of Iraqis are rebuilding their nation

By Norris Jones

Gulf Region Central District

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing 541 projects valued at $2 billion in a variety of areas including renovating hospitals and schools, installing new water and sewer lines, electrical generation, new water and wastewater treatment plants, bridges and road paving. In the past three years, more than 3,700 projects valued at $5.6 billion have been completed.

Namir El Akabi, Chief Executive Officer of ALMCO Group, which has 6,500 Iraqis on its payroll, says his firm has been involved with both new construction and refurbishment.

"We're the largest Iraqi-owned company doing this kind of work," El Akabi said. "We have completed about 80 projects, both small and large. The U.S.-funded projects have been the main engine for employment within Iraq. This work has allowed Iraq to survive, because without these strategic projects, things would have been much worse. It would have been a complete disaster."

His firm has been working for three years on the $50 million R3 water treatment plant in East Baghdad that will provide 25 million gallons daily (4,000 cubic meters per hour) of potable water. "Water is the essence of life. Weíll finish that project in January, and its impact on Sadr Cityís standard of living will be dramatic."

El Akabi is proud to point out that his workers are being paid some of the highest salaries in Iraq. "The secret to our success is honesty in execution, quality production, and looking after our Iraqi employees." He notes that at the conclusion of every project, 20 percent of the profits are distributed to his Iraqi crew. "That helps with motivation. They know they are part of the company. And thatís why we have been able to execute so many projects in such a short time. I look after our Iraqi employees, and they produce."

El Akabi grew up in Iraq and left at age 10. "It was a dream of mine to come back." He returned to Baghdad in 2003 and started his company with five employees. He notes that most Middle Eastern countries donít have the natural resources his homeland possesses. "They donít have water, they donít have oil, they donít have minerals Ė Iraq has everything." He hopes that someday soon, Iraq will become the next Dubai.

He said heís often asked when Iraq will be secure and safe. He answers, "I donít know. But we have to keep going. We have to keep going down that road to rebuild Iraq, to establish democracy and freedom. Things have improved tremendously."

He pointed out that last year, his company had a terrorist incident every week Ė an attack on one of their convoys, at a project site, or the kidnapping of an employee. "For the past two months, I donít remember one incident where a fatality happened. The Iraqi people are fed up with all this blood, all this terrorism, all these people coming from the outside and dictating how we should think, what is right and what is wrong. The Iraqis are an intelligent people by nature and the minority has been misguided, misguided by other countries and by other ideologies such as Al Qaeda, which is wrong by any standard."

El Akabi said that people today, for the most part, can go about with their normal life activities. "Iím optimistic. During the last three or four months, Iíve seen changes. In 2006, when things got really bad, we were all very depressed. We couldnít see hope. But we had to keep telling ourselves there is hope. Now I actually see hope. I can see it with my eyes, I can feel it. Today, hope is becoming a reality."