By Sgt. Natalie Rostek
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division
FORWARD OPERATING BASE HAMMER, Iraq – A new government center opened in the city of Salman Pak, Feb. 20, returning the local government to its seat in the heart of the Mada'in Qada.
Sunni and Shia leaders of the qada, along with Soldiers and leaders of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team attended the opening ceremony.
Lt. Col. Ryan Kuhn, from Clarks, Neb., deputy commanding officer of the 3rd BCT, said Salman Pak is on the verge of a revival after years of domination by Sunni extremists.
"The city of Salman Pak has historic meaning," Kuhn said. "It is the second oldest city in Iraq and one of the most historic."
Many Iraqis travel to Salman Pak yearly to visit historic landmarks such as the Arch of Ctesiphon, one of the largest and oldest freestanding arches in the world, Kuhn said.
"All Iraqis have not been able to visit Salman Pak like they were in the past," Kuhn said, adding that Salman Pak used to be a resort town where people flocked for family vacations. "Sunni insurgents took over the town; al-Qaida had a great influence in the area."
Kuhn said the mayor of the qada, Mushen Nasser, wants to restore what was lost to insurgent intimidation.
"The part of life that has been missing here is the ability to have fun without violence," Kuhn said. "Since the Sons of Iraq, the Iraqi security forces, and coalition forces have improved security, we are giving that an opportunity."
During the ceremony, residents of the Mada'in Qada, the 3rd BCT's area of operation, sang and danced to celebrate the newest addition to the city.
"You haven't lived life until you visit Salman Pak," they sang the words to a popular Iraqi song.
Kuhn believes returning the government to Salman Pak will greatly benefit all qada citizens.
"This returns the promise to all the good people of the Mada'in that the elected officials are not defeated by the insurgency," he said. "Now the government can move forward to assist all the citizens. Today the insurgents have lost and the Mada'in Qada has won."
The project began June, 2007, when Kuhn proposed a plan to move the government back to Salman Pak to Nasser.
"I can't even imagine what that would be like," Kuhn remembers Nasser saying. "That would be the best dream ever."
Eight months and $1.2 million later, that dream has become a reality.
"Before it was just words and now it's true," Sheik Nouri, head sheik of the qada, said through a translator. "We are grateful for what you are doing," he told 3rd BCT leaders at the opening.
The center is fully functional; however, there are still improvements to be made. Kuhn said a project is underway to make it the first building in the area with solar-generated electricity.
"Hopefully we will work hand-in-hand for a better Mada'in Qada and a better Iraq," Nasser said through a translator. "Everything we achieve is the fruit of our efforts."
The center is the permanent workplace of the qada council and mayor. It is located in the heart of the city near the Salman Pak municipality building and the joint security station where coalition forces work with Iraqi security forces.
The first Salman Pak fire station is currently under construction, next to the government center. A new market is scheduled to open across the street.
"The whole city block is dedicated to the government and protecting the citizens," Kuhn said. "It shows that everything is returning back to normal."
Kuhn explained he is pleased with the progress made in Salman Pak over the past 11 months since the 3rd BCT deployed to the Mada'in Qada in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"The qada government has returned to its seat in Salman Pak. The rule of law is back in Salman Pak with the court. Irrigation and drinking water is restored. Ministries and deputy government officials came to the qada and have projects to expand the economy and essential services. Job opportunities are produced by both education and agricultural growth," Kuhn said. "I'm happy to leave the new unit with that."