Provincial reconstruction teams playing a key role
"Iraq's young government, though still in its infancy, is facing extremely complex … issues that would cripple many mature nations," Army Major General William Caldwell, coalition spokesman, told journalists at an October 9 press briefing in Baghdad, Iraq.
As predicted, terrorist bombings and sectarian murders and kidnappings have increased in the Iraqi capital while residents observe the holy month of Ramadan. That these attacks are more frequent and severe in neighborhoods not protected under the government's recently issued Baghdad Security Plan, Caldwell said, highlights the need for an "Iraqi solution" rooted in political and economic development rather than military strategy. (See related article.)
But first, Caldwell said, the Iraqi government recognizes that it must move forward with its proposed National Reconciliation and Dialogue Project, an initiative announced earlier in 2006 aimed at bringing Iraq's diverse communities together. (See related article.)
Caldwell reported that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met October 1 with political and religious leaders who signed a pledge to try to end sectarian violence in Baghdad by establishing new district committees tasked with monitoring and addressing Sunni-Shia violence in their communities.
On October 7, Maliki met with ministerial officials and influential sheiks from al-Anbar province to develop and discuss solutions to the security and economic development challenges facing their region, second only to Baghdad in violent attacks. At the local level, Iraqi government and tribal officials across the country have met to consider ways to improve security.
Sunni and Shia religious leaders currently attending the Organization of the Islamic Conference in neighboring Saudi Arabia also are discussing the issue, Caldwell said, adding that later in October hundreds of Iraqis will meet for the third of four scheduled national conferences at the heart of the Iraqi government's national reconciliation initiative.
"The most telling sign of progress toward reconciliation is that the leaders from diverse factions, with different interests, are working together and are communicating with each other," the general said. (See related article.)
PROVINCIAL RECONSTRUCTION TEAMS MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Caldwell was joined by Rob Tillery, chief of staff for the State Department's Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, who updated journalists on the progress of the U.S. provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs). He said the teams are aiding community authorities in achieving greater self-reliance by helping build strong local governments.
"Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people," Tillery said. "And success here depends on decisions of the people and their government."
Originally developed for use in Afghanistan, the PRTs bring together personnel from across U.S. military and civilian government agencies to serve as advisers to provincial authorities. In Iraq, the teams are focused primarily on repairing and rebuilding more than $100 million worth of key infrastructure in 15 provinces.
But the challenge in Iraq extends beyond construction projects, Tillery explained. After decades of tight central control from Baghdad, provincial governments also need to develop skills in budgeting and public finance to deliver essential services to their citizens and to build the security, anti-corruption and rule of law programs essential to political and economic development.
Seven U.S. PRTs currently are active in Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Salah ad Din, Ninawah, Ata Min (Kirkuk) and Babil provinces. Three more teams, led by Italy, South Korea and the United Kingdom, operate in Dhi Qar, Erbil and Basra provinces.
PRTs contribute to national reconciliation by helping local officials develop effective conflict resolution techniques, improved security programs and good governance skills, as well as advising them on job creation and vocational training to provide new opportunities for area residents.
"I am convinced that the only way we're going to achieve success here is not to try to do this centrally, but to have each of the provinces start to take a leadership role in returning essential services to their people. Who knows best [other] than the leaders in the villages and the towns and the cities and in the provinces what is necessary? The PRT is helping them develop the infrastructure development plans to address those needs," he said.
For more information, see Iraq Update.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)