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Friday, June 15, 2007

Reconstruction Advisory Team working with Iraqis in Baghdad

Thursday, 14 June 2007
By Sgt. 1st Class Robert Timmons
4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs
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BAGHDAD - When President George W. Bush ordered troops to “surge” into Baghdad he was not just sending Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines, he was also sending little-known teams of reconstruction experts as well.

One of those teams operates out of Forward Operating Base Falcon with the 4th “Dragon” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, in the southwestern Rashid District of the Iraqi capital.

These small teams, known as Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams, are made up of workers from the U.S. military, State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Timothy Zuniga-Brown, who heads the EPRT in the Dragon Brigade, said his team serves as advisors to the Iraqis.

“We are a small team that works at the brigade and regimental levels,” said the Carson City, Nev., native. “This gives us better visibility and better understanding of what the Iraqi government can do to bring peace and stability to their own country.”

The team, comprised of seven people with technical expertise in various areas such as governance, security and economics, has been on the ground for almost two months.

“It is premature to see noticeable changes,” Zuniga-Brown said. “But we have seen changes for the better.” He said the district council holding its own meetings and the Doura Market revival are two examples of Iraqi growth in the area.

In December 2006 there were three shops open in the Doura Market, while today there are more than 250. More than $100 million has spent so far on rebuilding projects throughout the Rashid District, which the team is responsible for.

While the work was started by the military, Zuniga-Brown said the civilian teams would eventually help the Iraqi government stand on its own.

“Brigades have lots of knowledge and understanding at this level, but their main task is to fight and help the Iraqis win this war on the military side,” he said. “But, it’s clear in this conflict, especially when dealing with counterinsurgency, a lot of components are civilian – the Iraqis sending supplies to their own people, listening to their own people and putting together the requirements for a civil society to be stitched back together.”

The military was there to help address the security problems, but they needed help addressing their other problems, as well, Zuniga-Brown added.

“We are in an advisory role, a helping role,” he said. “Bottom line – the Iraqis need to do it themselves and they understand it.”

Photo - Lt. Col. Joeseph Birchmeier (standing) commander 4-1 Brigade Special Troops Battalion, gives a briefing on the ongoing service projects in the Rashid District of Baghdad.

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