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Reconstruction Teams Help Accelerate Progress in Iraq

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD, April 20, 2007 – U.S. provincial reconstruction teams are helping accelerate progress in many provinces of Iraq, Rick Olson, the director of the PRT national coordination team, said here.

Olson said there are now 10 “full-up” teams in Iraq. Led by State Department officials, the teams are an interagency approach to helping Iraqi provincial governments take control of their areas.

The teams have representatives from the Defense Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Justice Department, the Army Corps of Engineers and other U.S. agencies. Each established team has between 35 and 40 members. The largest team is in Baghdad with 80.

The provincial reconstruction effort has been in place for two years in Iraq. The idea originated in Afghanistan and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad brought the concept with him when he arrived in Baghdad.

While the teams are focused on long-term development, there is a new wrinkle to the concept, Olson said. As part of the surge into Baghdad, there is a civilian surge into the provincial reconstruction effort. Olson said he is standing up 10 teams that will be embedded in U.S. brigade combat teams.

These four-person teams are less focused on capacity building, and more focused on meeting the brigade commanders’ needs and the counterinsurgency fight, he said.

“They will advise the commander on the political and economic lines of the fight,” Olson said. Commanders can also use the teams for outreach to local populations and to informal leaders such as neighborhood leaders, tribal leaders and sheikhs, he said.

The Defense Department is supplying 130 personnel for a quick reaction, but some 300 more personnel will come from civilian agencies before the end of the year, Olson said. There will be six “embedded PRTs” in Baghdad, three in Anbar province and one in Babil.

The large teams will continue to work with provincial government to mentor and train officials in how to govern, Olson said. “There is not a legacy of decentralized governance in Iraq,” he said. “There’s a vacuum at the provincial level.”

He said the teams are dealing with very undeveloped bureaucracies. The teams work with provincial councils that are just figuring out how to do basic tasks like how to run a meeting, how to vote, how to identify requirements and then meet those requirements with resources.

The teams work with judges, police and elected officials to help establish or strengthen the rule of law in the provinces, Olson said.

Team members also work economic development. Usually led by a USAID official, the teams look for development opportunities. Where they find opportunities, they work to attract the right kind of experts to develop the economy at the provincial level, Olson said.

Each team has an Army Corps of Engineers expert that looks at provincial infrastructure, and how to build capacity in the Iraqi engineering community to maintain existing systems.

The teams also conduct outreach to the Iraqi people. In Diyala, the team helped set up a radio station to unite the people to face down the extremists, he said.

The provincial reconstruction teams need security to function best, Olson said. In provinces that see lots of fighting, team members cannot get out of the compounds to interface with the people.

“In the provinces where we are able to get out, or in the provinces where the security situation is starting to stabilize, PRTs have a tremendous accelerating effect,” he said. “They help convince the people that their local officials can be successful.”

“It’s a tremendous example of how the (U.S.) interagency process can work.”

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