The U.S. engineering community is reaching out to its Iraqi counterparts, offering assistance in a variety of areas, including professional practice, technical aid and education.

Representatives from more than a dozen U.S. engineering societies, the Army Corps of Engineers, White House, State Dept. and the U.S. Agency for International Development held a video teleconference July 16 with members of the Iraqi Engineers Union. The meeting was "the first formal direct contact between the IEU and the international engineering community since before 1990," according to Daniel Hitchings, a U.S. advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Housing and Construction, in Baghdad, who organized the meeting.

IEU is a professional organization that certifies engineers. Its members represent a variety of disciplines including civil, mechanical and electrical engineers. Most members are also affiliated with the 11 universities in Iraq and serve as consulting engineers. The organization is currently administered by the housing ministry until independence from the former political regime is established.

The U.S. delegation will offer information to IEU to bring it "more up to date in the practice of engineering from technology to project manager level," says Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Henry Hatch, a former chief of the Corps of Engineers, who chaired the U.S. session. U.S. sources have said Iraqi engineers are highly skilled but need assistance on management practices, including program management, contract management and construction management.

During the hour-long meeting, Iraqi engineers were nearly unanimous in their wish list: educational materials including books and CD-ROMs, subscriptions to professional journals and the opportunity to attend international industry and specialty conferences.

Because the cost to attend those conferences is prohibitive for the Iraqis, some suggested that U.S. university professors visit Iraq to teach the engineers and their students the latest technology and practices. Other needs include new equipment and replenishment of libraries that were destroyed after the war. "This is a necessity not only for the engineers union but for the universities," said one Iraqi engineer.

"We need also your financial support," one Iraqi told the U.S. group. Specifically, the group suggested funds to attend overseas conferences.

One engineer noted that Iraq is "very much in need of a code of practice." He asked for assistance in developing a plan that would relate "to the environment of Iraq," which experiences extreme temperatures in winter and summer. Another noted that health and safety standards do not exist, pleading for CDs or computer software that would provide training.

Some U.S. groups might consider establishing Iraqi chapters. That possibility has been broached with the American Society of Civil Engineers, says Larry Roth, ASCE’s deputy executive director. Last month ASCE included in its member newsletter some areas where engineers could offer assistance in capacity building and peer review. Many areas of ASCE members’ expertise overlap with Iraqi needs.

The U.S. and Iraqi engineers plan to hold regular meetings. The next VTC is scheduled for Aug. 6. "I believe we have a wonderful opportunity to establish a long-term opportunity to help," says Hatch.