Bloggers’ conference call with PRT staff in Iraq:
The Provincial Reconstruction Team program in Iraq is the civilian component to the military surge the President announced with his New Way Forward.
Paul O’Friel is a career State officer who has successfully led one of these joint civilian military teams. Paul’s team serves the very first province, Muthanna in southern Iraq, where control has been turned back over to Iraqis. In spite of that, his Iraqi counterparts have continued to welcome engagement… in fact work with local leader has increased since the province has returned to local control.
Wade Weems leads one of the newest teams in a predominately Shi’a Moslem portion of southern Iraq. Sited along the Tigris River near the provincial capital of al-Kut, Weems’ team has been pivotal in helping local governance take a foothold. The surge in military forces has empowered this civilian led team to re-establish an American presence in this important province on the Iranian border. The team’s military partners are varied and includes: US Forces, Salvadorans and soldiers from the nation of Georgia. Primarily an agricultural province, the Team is working with their military and Iraqi partners to launch a work corps that takes its inspiration from the Civilian Conservation Corps started by President Roosevelt to alleviate joblessness.
Kristin Hagerstrom leads a embedded PRT based in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province. Formerly one of the most volatile areas of the country with a virtually non-existent local government, the last year has represented a sea-change in this Sunni Province. As an embedded team, Ms. Hagerstrom is actually part of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. She and her 15-person team of civilian and military development experts and their partners in the Brigade are perfectly poised to facilitate the transition to political accommodation and economic progress.
Weems, O’Riel and Hagerstorm reported from the provinces where they are currently stationed. Each of them are involved in day-to-day project that not only involve the Iraqis in deciding what needs to be done, but in actively participating in, and focused on, their priorities and needs, and in solving them.
For instance, Muthanna province is focused on budgeting, planning, and executing a budget: What their needs are now, where the province wants to be in 3 to 5 years, and what progress needs to be made in order to get there. The PRT team is encouraging them to open up planning to non-government officials, like NGOs and the USAID office.
The projects vary from infrastructure, such as water and trash collection, to crafts fairs. to meeting basic human needs, to rebuilding a school in southern Iraq. The school’s principal spoke on Iraqi TV about this project – which will have a sister school in the USA.
Each province has its own identity and the work is tailored for each situation.
Mr. Weems and the other speakers emphasized:
- Creating a hope is extremely important
- Security has improved dramatically from a year ago
- “Doing good is our best weapon… our shield and our protection”, as people who support ous do what needs to be done.
Their aim is to engage directly with Iraqis at the local level to understand what people really need and how is the government meeting those needs.
The point of the PRT teams is to develop strong, long term relationships that will withstand whatever shock may come.
Ms Hagerstorm compared the improvement in Ramadi during Ramadan in 2006 and 2007: Last year there were 70 IEDs during Ramadan, this year, none. Last year there were no weapons caches found; this year, 30, which were turned in by the locals.
One of the questions asked about the murder of Sheil Shatar. Al-Qaeda miscalculated by murdering Sheik Shatar: the Iraqis feel that “we’re all in it together, and killing one man didn’t kill the momentum on what Iraqis are doing”.
The conferees invited the media to visit them in Iraq so they could see for themselves.
I’m interested in seeing what the MSM reports on this press conference, if they get around to reporting on it. This kind of reporting isi not about to start another moral bonfire to discredit the cause in Iraq.