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By Jack Ganssle

Send in the Engineers

Published 5/07/2003

"Without any promise he will ever be paid for his labor, Akeel Ansari has reported to his job every day for the past week, drawing plans for buildings, bridges and roads that may never be built."

So starts an April 27 story in the Washington Post. Akeel Ansari is an Iraqi civil engineer. He, along with many of his colleagues, is ready, willing and able to start rebuilding the cities and infrastructure in that cratered country.

Other stories making the news deplore the lack of water and electricity in Iraq's major cities, prompting some relief workers to suggest that a health crisis of huge proportions is in the offing. We who live in the rich countries take a working faucet for granted. Turn the knob, and the water flows forever. It's astonishing how quickly an interruption to that flow leads to cholera and other diseases.

Laborers are now clearing the rubble of war. But more importantly, Iraq needs to engage their engineers. Bridges, buildings, and critical utilities must be rebuilt. Delay means pointless suffering and worse.

Yet they are stymied by the American forces that, according to the article, have little interest in supporting or even talking to the indigenous engineers. While Halliburton and other US companies await lucrative reconstruction contracts, locals willing to work for nearly nothing are idle. A paltry $100/month salary would represent a big increase over their usual pay.

The reporter, Carol Morello, interviewed two Iraqi engineers. Both used the same words: "I love my job". We engineers do love our work, and like our counterparts in Iraq are motivated by factors other than money.

Few non-techies really know what engineering is all about. We solve problems. We build things. Give us a challenge and the appropriate resources and we'll change the world. American, European, Asian or Iraqi, we're all the same: smart, interested in making stuff, full of ideas, and intolerant of bureaucratic interference.

The work of the troops is done. Now it's time to send in the engineers.