Joshua Polacheck serves as the Public Diplomacy Officer for the Provinical Reconstruction Team in Mosul, Iraq.
When I arrived in Mosul in March of this year one of the first things I heard about was the Mosul Airport. It's a pre-war airstrip built with British assistance and for most of its seven decades of existence it's been primarily a military airfield. Iraqi Airways flew there briefly in the early 1990's. Since then, it has been almost exclusively military and, since 2003, run by the U.S. Army.
I came to Mosul as a member of one of the State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Our focus is primarily on strengthening the capacity of Iraqi institutions - "nation-building" if you will. Since the Government of Iraq has billions of dollars in revenue, we focus our direct monetary assistance in Ninewa so as to build up the ability of the provincial government to care for its own citizens. To that end, we use the traditional State Department foreign aid, Economic Support Funds, as a supplement to the Iraqi $200+ million provincial reconstruction and development budget for Ninewa. This gives the Ninewa government a second budget cycle to practice on. (Before 2006, the provincial governments had no input into financial decisions with local impact, and are still building their capacity in this regard.)
In early 2007, the Ninewa Provincial Council (similar to a state legislature in the U.S.) voted the renovation of Mosul Airport one of its top priorities for the 2007 Economic Support Fund budget (U.S. funded $25 million supplement to the $250+ million Iraqi budget). Ten months later, after many thousands of hours of work, the Mosul Passenger Terminal was ready to receive passengers.
And just in time. This renovation was part of a larger promise by Iraqi and American officials that Hajj flights would leave from Mosul in 2007. Our contribution helped the provincial and national governments to work together on the larger issues of resuming normal commercial flights to Mosul. In an innovative solution with the U.S. Army, the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority controls one end of the base where civilian commercial operations take place, while the larger airbase is still under military control.
Nearly every Iraqi I talked to in my ten months here has brought up Mosul Airport sometime during our conversations. The desire to reconnect to the outside world, as symbolized by an airport, was palpable. On December 2, down at the airfield, we heard the clapping and cheering from the airport staff as the first Iraqi Airways 737 pulled up to the terminal. Though our work had ended a week before, their work was just beginning, and a few hours later, the first Hajj pilgrims had boarded the plane on the first leg of the trip to Mecca. To see the joy of people's faces reinforced all the work we at the PRT had down since we started in 2005.