Marines hand over special projects funding to new Iraqi government

2 Jul 2004 | Sgt. Matt Epright 1st Marine Logistics Group

The Marines yielded one bank roll that funded numerous endeavors aimed to rebuild Iraq to the new interim government June 28, 2004, but they will still draw from their own wallets for future projects.

The Developmental Fund for Iraq, which served as an account for the management of a portion of Iraq's oil revenue, was dissolved, putting the profits back in the hands of Iraqis.

Prior to the handover, the United Nations authorized coalition military leaders to use the DFI to fund the Commander's Emergency Response Program, which paid to improve Iraqi infrastructure in their local areas.

For example, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, which provides camp security here, used the program to finance construction of a $175,000 water purification complex that will deliver fresh water to nearly 3,000 Iraqis in two communities.

The program's guidelines ensure that "the only way you can use it is to help the community," said Cpl. Freddy S. Sobalvarro, the 1st Force Service Support Group comptroller chief, who helps Group commanders request the funds.

Projects were still being authorized in the days leading up to the transfer of power. The battalion received final approval on buying a generator to provide power for a nearby fishing village just two days before the handover, said Maj. Rollin F. Jackson, one of the battalion's company commanders.

After Iraq regained sovereignty, the funds were absorbed into the new government's regular budget, where the money will no longer be required to be spent on community improvement projects, said Capt. Judy J. Yoder, I Marine Expeditionary Force's former budget officer.

However, the Marines are optimistic the Iraqi government will also use the money to improve the country's infrastructure. 

"The hope is that they will continue what we've started," said Sobalvarro, a 23-year-old Miami native.

Commanders will also encourage the Iraqis to make requests for new projects through their own new government to give it an opportunity to establish credibility with the people, said Jackson, a 37-year-old native of O'Fallon, Mo.

Though the DFI funds are no longer available, this will not stop multinational forces from completing any projects already in the works. All projects approved prior to June 28 will still be funded.

In addition, commanders are still able to identify and start new civil affairs projects, though Marines will have to look to unspent money from their own account.

As part of an $87 billion Iraqi aid package approved by Congress in November 2003, $140 million was specifically appropriated for coalition forces to use for CERP.

Soon afterward, the now departed Coalition Provisional Authority received authorization from the United Nations to begin using Iraqi oil revenue to back the program. Coalition forces shifted to using this fund because it was regularly replenished by oil sales, which allowed larger projects to be approved. Most of the original $140 million from Congress went unspent.

"We can still afford doing things for the Iraqi people," said Jackson, who recently received approval to purchase desks for one village's school.

However, the appropriated fund is "a much smaller pot of money," said Yoder, who until recently worked with I MEF's Civil Affairs Office trying to allocate more funds for the program, so the Marine Corps could continue to help the Iraqi people.

"No other program more clearly defines the difference between what the coalition is bringing to Iraq compared to that of the enemy," said Yoder.

Originally created in May 2003 as a method to properly use the $178 million in U.S. currency seized from the former Iraqi regime, the CERP proved to be a valuable asset in Iraq. It allowed Marine and Army commanders to give back to the Iraqi people the money that had been taken by Saddam Hussein's government by paying local Iraqi contractors to make improvements to the country's infrastructure.

The program became so popular with commanders that the United States decided to appropriate funding for program after the seized funds ran out.
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