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Winning the Peace in Baghdad

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2003 – Winning the peace takes a different type of soldier.

"Somebody this morning called the command 'the complaint department,'" said Army Brig. Gen. Jack Kern, the commander of the 352nd Civil Affairs Command during a May 6 interview in Baghdad. "I guess that's fair."

Kern's civil affairs soldiers are the bridge between the coalition and the Iraqi population. They are the men and women concerned with getting Iraq running again.

The unit also works with the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance and serves as the contact point for nongovernmental organizations.

"These people have risen to the occasion against truly asymmetric threats," Kern said. "These aren't things that the normal Army thinks about: getting schools started, public health, introducing a currency, running a city. These are things the 352nd does all the time."

Elements of the unit have been deployed in the Balkans and Afghanistan, but the Operation Enduring Freedom theater is the largest deployment for the command. About 1,800 Army civil affairs personnel are in Iraq, the Marine Corps has two civil affairs groups, and the British have a number of similar units in their area.

Kern believes the situation in Iraq can turn around quickly because of the care the coalition took in targeting and because of Iraqi cooperation. "When I first went into Sarajevo, every single building had damage," he said. That type of damage is limited to Iraqi Republican Guard barracks and to legitimate government targets.

"Civil affairs soldiers worked on targeting and our position was, 'Why break it if you don't need to?'" he said. "If you have to interdict something a railway or an electrical grid then interdict just the lines, not the power plants or the rail yard."

Kern said the term "shock and awe" that the media coined to describe the air campaign, had people thinking that Baghdad would be leveled. "We had no plans to do that," Kern said. "As you come into Baghdad, none of the bridges have been dropped across the river. People have been able to go (on) with their daily lives."

The country has problems with electrical power, water generation and oil. These are interlinked, and one can't be worked without affecting the other.

"This is a modern power system," he said. "It's computer controlled and it requires balancing the load. As the enemy retreated, they damaged portions of the water supply and electrical plants."

To get electrical power, Iraq needs fuel oil. The water purification system requires electricity. "We have recommended to the U.S. government that we start to sell Iraqi oil," he said. "We have got to get oil out of the pipeline system. Everything is clogged. We can't refine until we have a place for the byproducts gas, kerosene and so on. We already filled all the storage tanks."

The United Nations needs to act on President Bush's request to revoke the sanctions against Iraq. "The U.N. has to allow Iraq to operate as a member of the world community," he said. "Until they are allowed to sell oil, they will have no economy."

The 352nd and ORHA are working together to pay needed Iraqi civil servants. The command recently began issuing them an emergency payment of $20 U.S. dollars. "What does the introduction of U.S. currency into this country do to the monetary system, and how do we take steps forward and ensure it doesn't affect the rest of the region?" he asked. "We need to move quickly, but we need to look at the situation from all angles."

The unit is also working on establishing a justice system. And with a justice system, there has to be a prison system.

How can a unit of 1,800 men and women help a country the size of California and with a population of about 24 million? The 352nd is an Army Reserve unit from Riverdale, Md., and has the experience. "This is a core mission for the reserves and we bring incredible resources to the table," Kern said. "Every reserve unit has cops, but we have the cops that know how to set up a (police) department, because they run one back home."

He said the unit has a variety of engineers whose civilian jobs range from working on massive water projects to environmental clean-up. "These people know the latest thinking on a subject and the latest technology and standards," he pointed out. "I have a lieutenant colonel in the unit who is a county manager in Virginia. His experience is invaluable."

Such functions are a normal part of the civil affairs mission. "We're involved with a myriad of things," he said. "Every time I turn around I find my soldiers are involved in another aspect, and my challenge is keeping track of them."

Kern is also involved in helping forge a government solution in Iraq. "There's a proposal to start building councils for the neighborhood of Baghdad," he said. "Civil affairs soldiers have already been working with leaders.

"You can see that the city is functioning," he continued. "So many people have called this a humanitarian crisis I've lost track. Truth is, it is not a crisis, there are problems but they can be managed the Iraqis themselves are managing. There is a vulnerable population here, but it's entirely within the resources to handle this."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageAmerican military officers turn over emergency money to leaders of the Iraqi electrical power network. Officials will disburse $20 payments per employee from this fund. It is designed to alleviate some of the financial problems electrical workers are having. Photo by Jim Garamone  
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