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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Prov. Recon. Teams in S. Iraq – Progress Toward Independence

9 May 2007
Spc. Chris Erickson
CENTCOM Public Affairs

“We’re very focused on the need to return control to Baghdad. But we’re also very focused on the need to build capacity in the local and provincial governments and to be able to deliver economic and reconstruction assistance there.”

Those words were from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a statement January, 2007, explaining the need to build up Iraq and provide its people with independence.

For some provinces of the country, that independence has been achieved. Setting a milestone on July 13, 2006, Muthanna became the first province to transition its security to Provincial Iraqi Control (PIC). The second province to transfer authority was Dhi Qar on September 21 and An Najaf on December 20. Most recently, Maysan transferred authority on April 18.

But the government in these areas is still in its fledgling stages. Having spent so much time under the Saddam-controlled central government, many officials in provinces such as Dhi Qar and Muthanna are learning how to manage and provide essential services for the people in their areas.

That’s where the Provincial Reconstruction Teams come in. The PRTs exist as a civil-military effort, which in many places become the number one interface between U.S. and Coalition allies and Iraqi provincial governments.

In June 2005, Iraq’s Prime Minister announced a joint decision to systematically hand over security authority in all 18 of Iraq’s provinces to the Provincial Civil Authorities under the control of each province’s governor. The security responsibility will then fall under the authority of the Provincial Governor, the Provincial Council and the Iraqi Police.

A fact sheet provided by the PRTs stated the Joint Committee to Transfer Security Responsibility was formed to determine when a province was ready to be transferred. The JCTSR looks to four conditions when determining whether or not a province is ready for its security responsibility to be transferred. Those conditions are threat assessment, readiness of the Iraqi Security Forces, the governance capabilities of the province and Multi National Forces-Iraq force posture.

The fact sheet also highlighted as part of the President’s plan, the number of PRT personnel will double to 600 team members countrywide. In conjunction with the added staff, the capacity of the PRT program is being doubled with ten new “embedded” PRTs. These teams will work hand-and-glove in Brigade Combat Teams in synch with the military surge in Anbar and the Baghdad area.

Manning of the PRTs is diverse: Department of State, United States Agency for International Development, Coalition military personnel, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Gulf Region Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and contract personnel.

Not only do the PRT members come from a variety of backgrounds, but support comes from a variety of sources, including the U.S., Coalition partners and donor nations with the majority coming from the U.S. Economic Support Fund. Principal programs associated with PRTs include Community Action Program, Local Governance Program, Iraq Civil Society Program and Community Stabilization Program.

All of these factors contribute to planning what projects to do, what advice the PRTs can offer the Iraqis, and how the overall progress comes about.

Richard Riley, the deputy team leader of the Italian-led Dhi Qar PRT, said there were four areas in particular from the President's New Way Forward plan the PRTs were focusing on to build 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.”

Success in these four areas means a stable, secure country, one that is able to govern capably and meet the basic needs of the Iraqis. But getting the job done isn’t just about planning, and capacity building can’t be done without trust.

Dr. Anna Prouse, team leader for the Dhi Qar PRT, said it was challenging at first when no one from the provincial government wanted to meet. She said as time went on, however, the local officials began to trust them and now they are 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 has been in Iraq since 2003, so she is very familiar with what success will take and what it will mean for the Iraqis. She spoke about what her current 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.”

Training Iraqis in much-needed job fields, such as doctors and nurses, isn’t the only challenge. The PRT must also work on reconciling differences so administration officials can better work together, they must instruct the local government on planning and executing budgets, and also help the local populace determine which projects will best help provide essential services.

Accomplishing those goals means also coordinating with groups besides the Iraqis, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Lt. Cmdr Billy Frank Davis, Camp Adder area Officer-in-Charge for USACE Gulf Region South, spoke about some projects they had worked on with help from the PRTs.

“We’ve got some health clinics,” he said. “Most of these are personal health clinics that are in small communities that don’t have any kind of medical facilities, [where] the closest hospital is maybe 50-60 kilometers away, so this provides health resources for the communities there. We also provide some electrical substations and generation stations for these smaller communities. They’re also in the larger communities, but a lot of these are primarily for the smaller communities. We also do water systems, water storage facilities, some treatment facilities, basically your public works-type projects that you would normally see back in the states, we are providing for communities here in Iraq.”

Getting projects such as these can bring hope to the Iraqis, because they see results: people from different nations are coming in, not necessarily to just combat the insurgency, but to build capacity.

“If you’re not going to contribute anything to the effort, and all you’re going to do is lend advice, yeah that’s not going to work,” said Army Maj. Jacob Kulzer, civil military operations officer for the 1/34th Brigade Combat Team. “So John [Manza] and Anna have made it a point to travel a lot and spend a lot of time in the city, in the province, with the government officials, in their offices,” he continued. “Working with them, to live, feel, smell, see what the issues are, understand all the dynamics that don’t necessarily meet the eye in a conference room that are at play in order to come up with an effective solution. So they are both very well liked, well known and well respected.”

"They are getting excited," said Prouse, referring to the Iraqis. “[We] have [interaction with] people who actually want to see us because they believe that we could make the difference together with them."

Optimism and enthusiasm aren’t two words that are generally associated with Iraq , but those two qualities are showing through as the south progresses more and more toward independence.

Julie Nutter, team leader for the Maysan PRT, spoke of successes she had seen, and what they meant for the future of Iraq.

"One of the things Maysan is good at is allocating funds," she said. "They have been able to create the processes to determine what they have to do to get what they need for the province. They'll continue doing this, they're refining the process as they go along, but they have really good technical expertise in the provincial government.

“It's more an issue of uncovering that expertise and directing it, rather than creating it, because in a lot of cases it's there,” she continued. “What we're doing is we're trying to act as a catalyst and take that talent and to apply it toward, in a systematic way, the most important needs of Maysan. That's what I think is one of the biggest successes. We are a catalyst and that is an extremely important role, but this is the Iraqi's future, and they know that.

“They're really excited about that and they're eager to work with us,” she said. “I remember that at a seminar that we had, before the provincial development strategy seminar, one of the Iraqi leaders said to me, 'We would like Maysan province to become a model for other provinces in Iraq to follow.' That, to me, is the most hopeful comment that I've heard since I've been here."

Kulzer said because the PRT members had such close relationships with the local Iraqis, they were extremely effective, as the local Iraqi officials might not respect their position, but they do respect them as friends. Those relationships have enabled steps forward, because all parties have something invested in making Iraq secure and free.

“Most recently, we’ve been able to have a couple of really interesting, very candid security discussions,” said Kulzer, “with the governor, and the chief of police, and the Army brigade commander, and mayors of some of the key cities in the area, and then all the Coalition partners, sitting around this same table, having a very candid discussion about what the problems are, where there’s corruption, what’s really happening.”

Prouse said while the PRT program was good in certain places, it wasn't something that could work everywhere, one major reason one being security.

"There are other places in the country where it is impossible to get out,” she said. “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 (United Nations) 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 (State-owned enterprises) 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."

Don Brown, provincial action officer on the Maysan team, said that while the PRTs helped with reconstruction efforts, the credit lies with the Iraqis.

"In the end, the results will not be achieved by the PRT or U.S. or Coalition activity," he said. "The real results are in the hands of the Iraqis themselves. The Iraqi people are in charge of moving forward, on building the future of their province, at least in the case of Maysan. We, in our team, stand ready to assist, and we're really excited for the opportunities there are in capacity building and developing."

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