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Monday, May 14, 2007

Dhi Qar PRT successes showing through

14 May 2007
Spc. Chris Erickson
U.S. Central Command Public Affairs

Security authority for Dhi Qar has been under Provincial Iraqi Control for almost six months now, and many successes in the province are starting to show through.

The Iraqis who live in Dhi Qar province are now finding opportunities they never had under Saddam. The Provincial Reconstruction Team, which was set up last year, has been acting as advisers to the Iraqis, helping them determine which steps will best suit them to get Iraq to stand up on its own. To accomplish that goal, the PRT has been working with many different groups in the area, from U.S. and Coalition military to foreign civilian and Iraqi nationals.

Dhi Qar PRT team leader Dr. Anna Prouse, who has been in Iraq since 2003, spoke about what her team was doing to help ensure the Iraqis have a better future.

"'Reconstruction' is sort of [a] misleading word, because I'm not actually here to rebuild," she said. "I'm not here to do the 'brick and mortar' thing. Iraqis can do it, and they probably can do it much better than I. I'm here to build capacity, build this country from the roots, and the roots is the minds, the roots is the education, the health system. Not just put in a clinic, and don't care whether doctors, whether nurses exist, [but] whether they actually know how to maintain a hospital.

"The same thing could be adopted for the education system," she continued. "No one can ever complain or criticize us for building schools. They're not expensive. My point is I build the schools and now I go for the educational system. Now I start checking out 'Do girls go to school? Do girls go to school with boys? And OK, now I gave you the school but now you have to listen to me and have my advisers come in there and advise you on how to have a school running.'"

Richard Riley, the deputy team leader of Dhi Qar PRT, said there were four areas in particular from the President's New Way Forward plan that the PRTs were focusing on to establish capacity within the Iraqis themselves.

"[We need to] bolster the moderates in government of the provinces where we work," he said. "Another is foster reconciliation across the political lines around the province. Develop the economy to the degree that we can by advising the government in economic development. The fourth is to develop the capacity of the government in the province to perform its functions as a government.

"We accomplish those four key objectives in two main programatic ways," Riley continued. "The first is through capacity building programs. The second is with reconstruction programs.

"We are advising the government in drafting their provincial development strategy, which is the comprehensive strategy that will guide this province for the next three years, to decide what are the reconstruction priorities for the government, where should they put their money that they're getting from Baghdad, [and] helping them organize their thoughts around what this program should consist of," he said. "We're also helping to build the capacity to execute their budget. Governments run on budgets, they need the money to get the jobs done, to deliver services to the people of the province. We are helping to build the architecture of their budgeting process, getting them connected with Baghdad, getting them to use the money appropriately."

Riley added that they were also getting a web site built that will connect public administration groups from around the province, to make it easier for those groups to communicate. In addition, there are also a lot of different training programs springing up that will help train Iraqis.

"They do not know how to use computers, let's teach them how to use computers," said Prouse. "They have good engineers, but they do not have good architectural skills. Let's bring in advisers who are architects and teach those engineers how to bring in architectural skills, together with their engineering skills. Doctors are pretty good, but they're not updated. So, how to update doctors? Nurses don't even exist, so we train nurses here on the field."

She explained that, until now, they did a lot of training in Italy. She felt that to really achieve progress, Iraqis had to be trained in Iraq.

"I have a good province, a safe province, still Iraq ... but its' a safer Iraq, so I want Italian experts, American experts to come over here and teach the Iraqis on how to do it. So the first big project we are doing on that, the first capacity building project is we're building a ward, a theater, an operation theater at Camp Ur," she said "They already have a clinic, so we put in a ward, and that's where ... they will go in there and have surgery for two weeks, and have surgeries on facial reconstruction, on Iraqi children," she continued. "Iraqi doctors will assist in the surgeries, learn from those surgeries and then go out there and do the same thing on their patients in Iraqi hospitals."

Prouse spoke about the PRTs main role as advisers.

"The Iraqi government should start seeing us as good advisers, advisers with huge skills," she said. "My team, they have been all over the world. They know what they are talking about. Right now I have two agriculture advisers who are doing an assessment of the entire province."

"It absolutely adds a diversity of ideas," Riley added. "We have a lot of people here with a lot of experience," he said, referring to engineers, architects, water resource managers, and the different specialists who worked with the PRTs to help accomplish their goals.

"The last year, the province only spent 20 percent of its budget. This year they received $140 million," said Prouse. "I'm here to help you decide where best to spend your money, how to set up a budget. Last years budget looked like a high school budget. And it's not because they are incapable. They have never ever done it before. We have done it for centuries, so we know what we're talking about. This starts being accepted in their mentality," she said, referring to how her team now had a very good relationship with the Iraqi authorities and members of the local government.

Prouse said to accomplish her team's goals, they worked closely with the other groups in the area: the U.S., Australian and Romanian militaries. She said for Iraq to succeed in the end, all groups must maintain a joint effort, and that was something which was being achieved, as every group benefited from the experiences of the others.

"We have a different goal, but in the end we both want the same thing," she said. "It's fantastic group work. I haven't seen this anywhere else, it's not all about Coalition, it's about civilians and military just getting along together."

Prouse said it was challenging at first when no one from the provincial government wanted to meet. She said that as time went on, however, the local officials began to trust them and now they were having the Provincial Reconstruction Development Council at least once a week.

"Iraq is small steps, it's relationships," she said. "If the governor does not believe in me, if the chief of police tries to blow me up every time I get out of that gate, then I will never be able to build anything. So the first months were just, work hard and show them that you really have enthusiasm, and that the whole team really believes in this."

Prouse said it was important for PRT members to believe in a better future for Iraq so much that they would be willing to work here for more than half a year.

"Iraqis need one face, they can't have too many people running around them, and they can't have people who come in for six months and then leave," she said. "Because after six months, you don't even understand what's going on here. So six months gives you the idea of what's going on, you start building relationships, and then you leave. And then there's a new face coming in? And that's what I asked my government: not less than one year. I don't want anyone to show up and leave after a few months."

"It takes time to build trust and engagement with the Iraqi provincial governments," Riley said. "There are two things happening at one time. First, they themselves are building up their own capacity to be a government, and do the things they're meant to do under the Iraqi constitution. Second, we as the Coalition are attempting, at the same time they are building up, we are trying to integrate and become trusted advisers in that process.

"You cannot do a reconstruction, you cannot carry forward the president's program in this country, unless you have that level of trust," he added.

Prouse said that the PRT program was good in certain places, but it wasn't something that could work everywhere, for different reasons.

"This is a successful PRT, the team is very good, but there is a combination of factors [that] helps it being a good place to work," said Prouse. "There are other places in the country where it is impossible to get out, if you get out you get killed. PRT is all about interacting with Iraqis, if you don't meet the Iraqis honestly you might as well go home.

"I don't think we should just keep on perceiving it stubbornly in every single province thinking that it is a success story," she said. "Here, my goal, my long term goal, is making it a small success so that private investors come in, the UN comes in.

"I want this to be a place where the UN starts thinking 'lets start putting a couple of our people embedded in the PRT'," she continued. "I asked for a private investment expert, just come here and analyze what companies are around, what SOEs are around, and then I can start calling up companies and saying 'Listen, come over here and look at this company, I will make sure that you get there safely, [and] come back safely'," she said. "People have to start coming out here and seeing Iraq is not the same all over the place, it changes a lot."

"They are getting excited," said Prouse, referring to the Iraqis. "There is a big difference between Baghdad and here. It's hard to ask them to be enthusiastic when the main goal is to stay alive until the end of the day. Asking them to fight for capacity building programs is a little far-fetched," she continued. "When I said that in Baghdad, I could see people rolling their eyes. Here, it clicked. I told them what it was about, and they are an enthusiastic bunch. That makes my life, our life, that much easier to go out there and have an enthusiastic PRDC. Have people who actually want to see us because they believe that we could make the difference together with them."

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