By Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Multi-National Division-Center Public Affairs Office
YUSIFIYAH, Iraq – Sunni and Shia veterinarians are working together in Yusifiyah to form a certified non-government organization and help the agricultural economy of the region.
"There's a kind of history being made in this area," said Maj. Michael Zink, veterinarian officer for Multi-National Division – Center. "This is the first [veterinarian] group getting together without letting race or sectarian issues interfere."
The Yusifiyah Veterinarian Association is in the final stages of receiving its certification. The association consists of more than 20 veterinarians, most of whom own private clinics.
"I don't look at them as Sunni or Shia. I look at them as veterinarians," said Dr. Kamil Almakssosi, Ph.D., bilingual and bicultural adviser for the Mahmudiyah embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team.
"Everyone is here to do their job," Almakssosi added.
That job is simple: work together to provide veterinarian care for Yusifiyah farmers and their agribusiness.
The group is also working with coalition partners to build the first veterinary lab in Yusifiyah, known for its poultry business.
Almakssosi assigned different tasks to the members in order to enhance the association's effects. He challenged them to encourage more veterinarians to join the association, reach out to the government of Iraq for support and find a good location within Yusifiyah for the lab.
Zink said the veterinarians' combined resources and efforts to bring the lab to their area are much more effective than individual efforts. The certification will also assist the association in garnering support from private organizations and investors.
The lab will diagnose common diseases to better respond with treatment and improve the livestock's well-being in the area.
There are already plans for two advanced, veterinarian diagnostic labs to perform the majority of testing needs. They will be centralized in Baghdad and Irbil province. The central lab in Baghdad is under construction, including equipping and hiring employees. The project will cost approximately $250,000.
"We're [also] sending some of the Iraqi employees that work at the [centralized] labs to the United States to train and then come back and train the people in the labs in Baghdad and Irbil," Zink said.
The organization also plans have smaller cells in neighboring areas which would send samples and material to Baghdad for more complicated or advanced testing. The upcoming lab in Yusifiyah will be one such lab and will be able to send out testing material at no cost to its veterinarians.
"Doesn't matter where the vets are from. All the samples will be treated the same," Zink said, reassuring the association members that no lab or clinic would be discriminated against based on the veterinarian's religious sect.
These projects could not happen without the unity of veterinarians willing to work together, but Almakssosi also credits coalition forces for helping Sunni and Shia focus on a shared goal.
"This is most important to them, [to] know that Americans are not just watching them. No, [they're] helping them, training them," Almakssosi said.
Zink agrees. He sees the coalition involvement as a significant catalyst to the union.
"They saw that we were honestly here to help," Zink said. "Once they saw that we were sincere in really trying to help them, then, everyone came together."