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Reconstruction Team Emphasizes Long-Term Benefits for Iraqis

By Kristen Noel
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2008 – A provincial reconstruction team is working to build capacities in Iraq’s Wasit province for the long-term benefit of its citizens, a military official said yesterday.

The 30-member PRT, which includes various experts from the U.S. State Department as well as military personnel, is engaged with all levels of the Iraqi government to help them provide better services to citizens, Army Col. Peter Baker, the 214th Fires Brigade commander, told online journalists and “bloggers” in a teleconference.

With incidents of Shiia extremism still occurring in Wasit, Baker said, security remains a top concern in the province. “We’ve recently had some resurgence … of the violence,” he said. “We were attacked about 10 days ago with rockets on our (forward operating base).”

Baker said two training courses for Iraqi security forces have been created to build their capacity to secure the province. A noncommissioned officers academy provides professional leadership training for Iraqi army and police forces, and a military police course allows Iraqi police one-on-one performance training sessions with the U.S. military police company in Wasit, he explained.

“Between the two courses, the NCO academy and the MP training course, we’re building capacity within the Iraqi security force,” he said.

Security forces in Wasit province, including Iraqi army and police, have made marked progress.

On March 4, Iraqi police and the Iraqi Army joined forces for the first time in Wasit to conduct security operations in the city of Kut, Baker said. They detained 25 people and confiscated numerous weapons, including 65 rifles, a machine gun, pistols, explosives, and ammunition during the combined operation, he said.

In another operation, combined Iraqi army and police forces confiscated 450 mortar rounds, a mortar tube, and various munitions, he said.

Baker said that as security improves, the provincial reconstruction team is able to pursue more programs to build capacity in other areas.

Both near-term and long-term economic programs for Wasit citizens are being developed by reconstruction team members from the State Department and the U.S. Army, he said, who are coordinating with the provincial government and city-level governments to ensure all programs are mutually supportive.

Another economic aspect being addressed is unemployment, which Baker said is the biggest challenge in Wasit, besides security. “So, we’re trying to increase … both the security and, at the same time, employment opportunities,” he said.

The State Department has provided experts in agriculture and economic and business development to help spur commercial industry and farming to create jobs. However, Baker said, the Wasit PRT also is emphasizing human capital development programs meant to help Iraqis gain employment and improve services to citizens in the long run.

For example, Baker said, the reconstruction team has started a program that teams Iraqi doctors with U.S. military doctors to build human capital within the medical field. The military doctors are sharing their knowledge on the most current developments in the field with Iraqi doctors through a series of seminars, he explained.

He said there is also a huge focus on education for the Wasit provincial reconstruction team.

“We’ve built several schools and refurbished others,” he said. “We provide higher education with furniture and equipment and also help building additional classrooms.”

Baker said that the provincial reconstruction team contributed to the completion of an Internet café in a Kut secondary school for girls. “The café provides 10 computers with Internet service for 1,000 Iraqi girls,” he said.

Additionally, he said the reconstruction team received funding March 17 to build four more labs and classrooms at Wasit’s engineering university. The university, founded in 2006, has enrolled about 3,100 students and will graduate its first class of engineers in 2010, he said.

“These new buildings will house a computer lab, an asphalt lab, a soil lab, and a survey lab,” Baker said.

(Kristen Noel works for the New Media branch of the American Forces Information Service.)

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