New Rebuilding Plan In Iraq Ignites Debate About Tactics




 
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New Rebuilding Plan In Iraq Ignites Debate About Tactics
 
April 19th, 2007  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: New Rebuilding Plan In Iraq Ignites Debate About Tactics


New Rebuilding Plan In Iraq Ignites Debate About Tactics
Wall Street Journal
April 19, 2007
Pg. 1
U.S. Officials Differ On Best Way to Win Loyalty in Provinces
By Yochi J. Dreazen
TIKRIT, Iraq -- A few weeks ago, Lt. Col. James Foster strode through a newly renovated courthouse here, and cursed loudly.
The Iraqi police who worked on the building had torn holes into several walls haphazardly, leaving piles of broken bricks and debris on the floor. In a room meant to become a judge's office, water spilled from a broken sink. The building's entrance hall was crammed with Iraqi police recruits, who had turned it into a makeshift barracks.
Col. Foster, a reservist temporarily assigned to a State Department team, called over the Iraqi engineer running the project and told him to redo the shoddy repairs.
"We can't build this for you," he snapped.
That point is at the core of the latest American vision for rebuilding Iraq, and of tension within the Bush administration over how to do it.
The State Department is trying to push more responsibility for reconstruction onto the Iraqi government. The Pentagon believes in keeping projects under American control and completing them quickly, to win the loyalty of the Iraqis.
Both approaches have run into difficulties and it's not clear if either will be more effective than the administration's initial reconstruction push, which relied heavily on Halliburton Co., Bechtel Group Inc. and other large American contractors. That $33 billion effort was a flop amid poor oversight, widespread mismanagement and corruption.
In hopes of finding a new way, the State Department in late 2005 began setting up small teams assigned to work in individual Iraqi provinces and coordinate small projects that are funded by the Iraqi government and carried out by Iraqi companies.
"What we want to do is change the mind-set that the U.S. will solve every problem for them," said Stephanie Miley, who was head of the team working on the courthouse, and Col. Foster's boss, until March 30. "We don't want the Iraqis to wake up and see that their sewage doesn't work and have their first thought be, 'The coalition will fix this for us.' We want them to do it themselves."
The provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs, have been hampered by security problems and difficult relations with Iraqi officials, some of whom are corrupt or incompetent. As a result, the joint U.S.-Iraqi projects proceed fitfully, if at all.
Ms. Miley and other senior State Department officials argue that the provincial teams can lead reconstruction projects in areas of Iraq that are too dangerous for private-sector Western contractors to operate in. They also say the provincial teams can get more bang out of the remaining reconstruction funds by hiring Iraqi firms to carry out the work, rather than relying on more expensive U.S. and European companies.
Many U.S. military commanders, however, think that the State Department's approach is wrong for a country as violent as Iraq. The military's own reconstruction effort takes a different approach, funding the projects it takes on, and overseeing the work itself. The Pentagon believes this is the best way to show Iraqis there are clear benefits to backing the U.S. and not insurgents or terrorists.
"You need to knock out the small, quick projects, or else the Iraqis just give up on the process," said Maj. Christina Nagy, a civil-affairs officer from the 82nd Airborne Division here.
Staffing problems also have caused bad blood between the State Department and the Pentagon. It is hard to recruit civilians to serve on PRT teams and the State Department often fills out its teams with military officers. In February, the State Department officials asked the Pentagon to send 129 additional military personnel to Iraq for as long as six months to serve on the new provincial teams. The request infuriated Defense Secretary Robert Gates, although he approved it.
"It is illustrative of the difficulty of getting other agencies to provide people on a timely basis," Mr. Gates complained to lawmakers at the time.
The State Department's approach got a high-profile endorsement on March 22, when President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hosted a meeting at the White House with several leaders of reconstruction teams. The following day, the U.S. said 10 veteran State Department officials would be leaving for Iraq to create 10 new reconstruction teams, doubling the number of PRTs there to 20.
The first PRTs were established in Afghanistan in November 2002 and were credited with some success there. Three years later, Ms. Rice traveled to the northern Iraqi city of Mosul to inaugurate the first Iraqi provincial reconstruction team.
At the time, the U.S. was backing away from the idea of leaving reconstruction to Halliburton and other big U.S. companies. Billions of dollars spent on private contractors had gone missing, leaving Iraq's electricity and water systems far below their prewar conditions.
"The era of big construction, indeed of reconstruction with a capital 'R'...is over," David Satterfield, the top State Department official on Iraq, told reporters in February.
Ms. Miley's team began operating here in the Salahaddin province in April 2006, and is currently working with the Iraqi government on the new terrorism courthouse and approximately 40 other projects, including farmers markets and food warehouses.
A former Peace Corps volunteer, Ms. Miley spent 17 years in the Foreign Service, mostly working in economics-related posts. She met her husband, a U.S. military officer, when they were both deployed to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Egypt's Sinai Desert in the 1990s. She spent five months in Iraq in 2004 working at the Coalition Provincial Authority and then at the mammoth U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Last spring, she returned to Iraq to take the helm of the provincial advisory team here.
"My mother always pushes me to do the London-Paris-Rome circuit, but I like getting my hands dirty," she said with a laugh. "I don't do well in cubicles."
In Tikrit, Ms. Miley works out of a small office on the second floor of a former Iraqi air force building located on what is now Contingency Operating Base Speicher, a sprawling U.S. facility that has 24-hour coffee shops, Burger King and Subway fast-food restaurants.
After arriving in Salahaddin last April, Ms. Miley and her colleagues ran into an immediate problem: Most of the Iraqi officials they were supposed to work with wanted nothing to do with them.
The local U.S. military commander, Army Col. Michael Steele, a Special Forces veteran, had tense relations with local Iraqis because of his aggressive use of military power, which is a central focus in the ongoing criminal trial of four of his men for allegedly murdering three Iraqi detainees. The Iraqis greeted Ms. Miley and her colleagues with skepticism and outright hostility.
"All the doors were shut to us, we couldn't get any meetings, and Iraqis went out of their way to ignore us," said Lt. Col. John Bayer, a member of the PRT.
Over time, the provincial governor, Hamad Hamoud al-Shakti, took a strong personal liking to Ms. Miley, who he said reminded him of his wife, Amira al-Rabei, a prominent doctor here.
The two women quickly became friends. But last July insurgents detonated a bomb in Dr. Rabei's medical office, killing her instantly. "Her death was devastating to me," Ms. Miley said.
Ms. Miley's connection to Mr. Shakti has helped open doors, but security concerns still frustrated efforts to get projects going. Impromptu meetings with Iraqis have proved all but impossible; visits to project sites are complicated by the need for military protection.
Ms. Miley's personnel can only venture into Tikrit and other nearby cities a few times a week, and they always travel in convoys of at least three armored Humvees protected by heavily armed U.S. military personnel. Trips are regularly scrapped at the last-minute because of gunfire or roadside bombs, and several military members of the team have been wounded in insurgent ambushes.
Due to safety concerns, many of the team's Iraqi counterparts spend extended periods of time out of the country. Mr. Shakti, for instance, speaks defiantly of never bowing to the insurgents who killed his wife. He says insurgents have tried to assassinate him 16 times. But U.S. officials say he spends at least as much time in Dubai and Jordan as he does in Iraq.
The security restrictions have hampered provincial teams across Iraq. An October audit by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, found that just four of the State Department's 13 main and auxiliary PRT offices then in operation were "generally able" to function effectively and recommended closing the offices in the bloody Basra and Anbar provinces entirely.
Ms. Miley's PRT has also faced criticism from U.S. military commanders.
While Ms. Miley has been trying to build a courthouse, the military has been building a string of new greenhouses across the province. The greenhouses are to include adjacent plots of land where Iraqi farmers can experiment with different types of crops.
The idea for the greenhouses originated with Iraqi agricultural officials, but the Army isn't relying on the Iraqi government to fund or manage the project. Instead, the greenhouses are being purchased with American money, and the 82nd Airborne Division is in charge of hiring the Iraqi contractor and overseeing the actual construction work.
"You need to grab the low-hanging fruit," said Capt. Dan Cederman, a civil-affairs officer for the 82nd Airborne Division. "You need to knock down some short, quick goals to show the Iraqis they have something to gain."
 


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