O’Sullivan works six days a week putting in 12-hour days that take him from site to site and to Iraqi ministries and administrative offices. In the searing summer heat, with temperatures sometimes reaching 130 degrees, O’Sullivan meets with foremen at the work sites and deals with Iraqi and CPA officials to get approvals, financing, and equipment for his projects. He says his days are often consumed with jumping through bureaucratic hoops.
“One problem is simply getting approval on projects,” he says. “We started [work] on buildings in Sadr City [a section of Baghdad]. We were awarded a contract through the CPA. We went to start painting schools, medical and government buildings, but found out the CPA never got approvals from the Iraqi government.” Another frustration is that Iraqi ministry officials want to deal only with O’Sullivan “everybody in Iraq likes to talk to the top guy in an organization, even when it’s not necessary,” he says making it difficult to “deputize” other JumpStart managers to work with the government. “We just have too many sites throughout Iraq for me to be involved in everything,” he says.
O’Sullivan lives in a Baghdad apartment where a generator supplies enough power for him to run a fan on scorching hot days. But, he says, most Iraqis still are experiencing electricity shortages and interruptions, along with water shortages, that fuel their frustration. “The demand [for electricity] has been increasing much faster than supply. It’s very aggravating for people not to be able to run air conditioning,” he says on a 113-degree day.
Meanwhile, security problems continue to plague the country and have brought tragedy to JumpStart as well. O’Sullivan says he believes the biggest problem facing the newly sovereign country now is general lawlessness. “People are being kidnapped all the time,” he says. “You don’t hear [in the Western media] about the thousands and thousands of Iraqis being kidnapped for ransom” by both insurgents and other criminals.
Widescale lawlessness also continues. Some JumpStart foremen have received death threats in recent months, and O’Sullivan’s car has been followed and he was robbed of a large sum of the organization’s cash. In July, his friend and JumpStart co-founder, Mohaymen Al Safar, 26, was assassinated in his car while driving to inspect new project sites. O’Sullivan was planning to turn over the day-to-day management of JumpStart to Al Safar in October, and he was to be best man at O’Sullivan’s wedding in December. [See sidebar]
“Iraqis are fed up with so many being killed,” he says, placing some of the responsibility on the Iraqis themselves for not doing enough to police their own neighborhoods and cities. “They need to step up to have a lawful society.” O’Sullivan hopes a restoration of order will bring about an end to the insurgency and anti-American feelings.
In this dangerous atmosphere, O’Sullivan says his challenge is to continue to operate JumpStart safely and keep workers productive as the organization expands. While he worries about his own security, he points out that ordinary Iraqis are at much greater risk because many must travel daily through checkpoints and areas that are targets for car bombs and ambushes. “Iraqis have a tougher time of it than I do,” he says. “So many people who have been killed are Iraqis. I try to limit exposure by not hanging around checkpoints and places where many Iraqis are forced to have to wait in line.”
O’Sullivan sees hope, however, in the entrepreneurial spirit of the people of Iraq, calling it “the saving grace of the economy.” He points to potential for growth in private businesses, citing telecommunications and the sale of commercial goods as two areas in which the economy is doing well. “The economy could really be thriving in a few years unless there’s a civil war or the government fails to stand up,” he says. “The marketplace is bustling.”
The housing market is one sector poised for growth. O’Sullivan estimates that up to 20 percent of the population could be employed in housing construction in the coming years. But with 80 percent of the land still owned by the government, organizations like JumpStart must deal with a labyrinth of government offices and evolving rules and regulations. O’Sullivan has been working with the ministries of housing, construction, and finance to free up some land for construction. “This is something that will directly impact the people,” he says, adding that land reform and housing construction will give more Iraqis the opportunity to own their own property and homes. So far, JumpStart has built 20 houses in Fallujah, 320 housing units in Baghdad, and is seeking final approvals to start a $15 million revolving construction fund that will continuously employ about 7,000 people.
As O’Sullivan’s “Peace Corps year” in Iraq draws to a close, he is preparing for his next venture, perhaps in a European city or in another country in the Middle East. In the meantime, he hopes JumpStart has left Iraq a better place.
“I believe if you promote prosperity and economic opportunity then you can promote peace,” he says. “There is a universal human desire to try to create a better life for one’s self and one’s children. If that opportunity is provided, then I think the war can be won. The war on terrorism cannot be won through the
For more information about JumpStart International, visit www.jsintl.org.
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