Cablegate: Prt Team Leader's Conference - Moving Forward

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P 131409Z AUG 08




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1. (SBU) Begin Summary: The message of the July 6-7 Team Leader's
Conference was clear: Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) must
lay the groundwork for Iraqis to assume greater responsibility,
which will occur sooner rather than later. State-DoD cooperation
will be essential as DoD turns its attention from combat operations
to civilian-led capacity building. Ambassador Crocker challenged
team leaders to be actively involved with their Iraqi counterparts,
and remain sensitive to the present reality that Iraqis want to
govern their own country. How quickly we thin out will depend on
candid PRT assessments of progress. General Petraeus echoed
Ambassador Crocker's sentiments and provided his overall assessment
of the security situation and what that means for the future of
PRTs. In his view, now that the security situation has improved,
the Coalition is increasingly able to shift its focus from combat
operations to capacity building. Other presenters, representing 23
different offices and agencies, built on the themes expressed by
Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus, telling team leaders their
plans for the future.

2. (SBU) All 31 teams were represented, including the teams led by
the Italians and the Koreans. End summary.

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3. (SBU) "Governance is working," remarked Ambassador Crocker as he
opened the conference. "We know it because it's being targeted," he
continued, referring to recent attacks on government institutions
and the judiciary. He was optimistic that we would continue to make
advances in many areas, but encouraged participants not to overstate
those advances when reporting. "Tell it straight," he said, "put up
flags. Progress in Iraq is not linear; one step forward is often
accompanied by two steps back." In other words, "don't put lipstick
on a pig." The Ambassador then relayed to participants the three
big issues on his mind: provincial elections, the nature of
U.S.-Iraqi relations in the future, and how to work ourselves out of
a job.

4. (SBU) Provincial Elections: Ambassador Crocker was circumspect
when talking about whether provincial elections would occur, opting
not to predict. Instead, he offered an assessment of the elections
process. The Ambassador said there was likely to be an open-list
system, which allows voters to choose individual candidates rather
than a party that would likely create certain challenges. The major
concerns will be security and process. Iraq struggles with a
largely uneducated electorate with little experience in how an
open-list system works, and there will be security challenges
associated with candidates campaigning individually.

5. (SBU) U.S.-Iraqi Relations: Ambassador Crocker spoke about
U.S.-Iraqi relations in the context of our challenges ahead. One of
these will be negotiating the terms of our future military presence
in Iraq. Emphasizing that "we must get it right," he noted that we
are now negotiating a SOFA agreement that will define every aspect
of our presence in Iraq when the current UN mandate expires (Chapter
7 will expire at the end of this year). The challenge ahead will be
working with the Government of Iraq to put together a framework that
addresses both Iraqi and U.S. interests.

6. (SBU) Moving Forward: In the Chief of Mission's view, momentum
is building among Iraqis who want to govern their country their own
way. As this situation evolves, team leaders must ensure that
Iraqis are equipped with the tools necessary to succeed in their
efforts. Ambassador Crocker cited a few examples of what we need to
do before turning control over to the Iraqis -- QRF projects should
focus on building capacity, PRTs should evaluate the present threats
on the judiciary to determine whether there is a broader effort to
undermine it, and we should engage the Sadrists to help us learn
more about what they want and help them understand that the U.S.
government is not anti-Shi'a. The Ambassador added that the extent
to which we understand that Iraq is a sovereign state will help
guide our actions. His parting comment urged team leaders to keep
in mind whether and where our long-term interests would warrant a
permanent presence as consulates, and where to phase out PRTs

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7. (SBU) MNF-I (General Petraeus): General Petraeus told the PRT
leaders that his guidance to the military is to "thin out, not hand
over." The difference is significant, he noted. Thinning out
implies we are still tracking what's going on and still have a
presence, whereas handing over implies complete turnover, a

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situation for which the Iraqis may not be fully prepared. Advisors,
transition teams, and PRTs were all part of thinning out,
maintaining situational awareness and generating an impact that is
disproportionate to their numbers. General Petraeus emphasized the
favorable direction in which the situation is trending, noting that
security incidents are at the lowest levels in over four years, Al
Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and militias have been substantially degraded,
Iraqi Security Force (ISF) capability is increasing (Iraqi soldiers
are dying at a rate more than three times that of U.S. forces), and
the Government of Iraq is increasingly in control. He emphasized
that these gains are occurring even as coalition forces are being
reduced. The military has played an important role in stabilizing
the security situation, he said. Violence has been reduced through
various operations aimed at rooting out insurgents and AQI networks
although he cautioned, pockets still remain. General Petraeus
likened the activities of remaining AQI elements to a lethal and
dangerous mafia-like organization, while it still has elements of an
ideologically-inspired terrorist group.

8. (SBU) Although Petraeus explained the challenges facing Iraq, he
also expressed guarded optimism about the future. With an economic
foundation in place (record oil profits, infrastructure
improvements, micro-loans and employment initiatives, and progress
in the international banking), he noted, Iraqis will be well
postured to take charge as security conditions in various areas
allow. Nonetheless, General Petraeus expressed his concerns about
what Iran will decide to do; how much and what kind of influence
Iran will wield; whether AQI will reinvigorate its activities and
regenerate its source of support (something he noted was unlikely
unless the Sons of Iraq were disbanded); and catastrophic events in
the oil and electricity sector that could set back progress and
cause widespread discontent within the populous.

9. (SBU) Petraeus provided his candid view of the role of PRTs and
the importance of Foreign Service Officers. He said we should
encourage Congress to support maintenance of the PRT presence,
arguing that contributions from PRTs in the field are vital. One of
our biggest mistakes, Petraeus observed, was allowing the early
incarnation of the PRTs (operating under a different name during
CPA) to fall by the wayside once Iraqis transitioned from CPA to
sovereignty. It was time lost, he asserted. Recognizing the
valuable work of Foreign Service Officers, he noted that he has
advocated for the expansion of the Foreign Service in order to
address the types of challenges we now face.

10. (SBU) The General closed on an upbeat note, commenting that we
can succeed in Iraq. He noted that Sunni and Shi'a have lived in
peace in the past, drawing distinct contrasts to the conflict in
Bosnia, where many observers and participants had served. "Iraq is
not the Balkans," he noted. "In the Balkans, thousands of years of
hostility separated the two ethnic groups. Sunni and Shi'a,
however, have lived together in peace before." Once the security
situation improved, he predicted, "Iraqis will be in good shape to
pave their own way."


11. (SBU) The following are the highlights of more than 23 separate
briefings and discussion sessions:

-- OPA Director: The OPA director chaired a productive dialogue
with the team leaders, telling them she would provide PRTs the tools
they needed to accomplish their goals. OPA is working hard to get
more subject matter experts on the PRTs and looking at ways to
co-locate international organizations (e.g., the United Nations)
with teams. The director challenged the group to build up the soft
side of our efforts in preparation for the situation long after the
military has gone. She also noted the need to look for ways to get
satellites into Iraqi hands, and urged teams to concentrate on
projects that were sustainable and irreversible. She echoed
Ambassador Crocker's words, detailing the importance of laying out
the end-state, noting that phasing-out should be conditions- (not
calendar-) based. PRT observations, she noted, would form the basis
of a report to Congress. In closing, she reminded the group that
Iraq had resources and one task of PRTs was to help protect those
resources from thieves, as well as to teach the Iraqis how to
budget, apportion, and implement.

-- Security: The RSO Office continues to strongly support the PRTs
and is increasing the number of RSO personnel at the four REOs.
This innovation has resulted in a marked increase in the number of
movements and time on the ground for RSO support movements. The RSO
Office is working with MNC-I and MNF-I on the basic concepts of
protection to enhance the safety and security of everyone. The
final conclusions will be incorporated into a document that outlines
these concepts for PRT/ePRT movements. The RSO Office offers a
range of security classes and stressed that personal security
awareness and the reporting of incidents is everyone's

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-- CIDNE: CIDNE is an unclassified platform to store and share
information. This system will avoid duplication of effort in the
field. MNC-I will implement CIDNE by August 20 of this year. CIDNE
will provide year-to-year continuity by allowing users to access
historical information on one consolidated platform. For example,
if a military civil affairs officer visits a rice mill during their
tour, that officer can enter their report into CIDNE so their
successor can access it. Otherwise, we start anew each year as a
result of rapid staff turnover.

-- Health and Human Services: Our public health advisor noted that
Iraq has good public health professionals, but the core of public
health needs to be rebuilt. To address that need, the health
attache's office is focused on four objectives. The first is to
improve human resources and provide expertise to the Ministry of
Health. The Ministry of Health currently is trying to flush out
corrupt elements, encourage health promotion, privatize the system,
and build local capacity in order to move its agenda forward. We
will assist in those efforts. The second focus is to rebuild the
public health surveillance infrastructure. The third is population
health, with the difficult challenge of educating a population about
health that in some areas can be 60 percent illiterate. Also, Iraq
needs hospitals, emergency services, and clean water. The fourth is
governance, creating cooperative exchanges of technical and
scientific expertise. In the 1970s, Iraq was the paragon of public
health systems in the Middle East. Getting it back to that level is
the goal, though it will take time, the speaker acknowledged. The
brain drain resulting from the Iran-Iraq war and two Gulf wars has
been a persistent problem; 17,000 Iraqi health professionals fled
during that period. Iraq needs those physicians to return to Iraq.
Health is an easy win for all; it crosses all ethnic, religious, and
sectorial boundaries.

-- Assistance and Returns of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs):
There's good news and bad news. The good is that Iraqi displaced
persons have been returning home since September 2007. The bad is
that one out of every six Iraqis is still displaced. Unfortunately,
not a lot of them are returning home because they now may be a
minority group in an area where their ethnic/religious group was
once a majority. The return is made more difficult for some, who
find that squatters now live in their homes. One of the two
speakers predicted that we wouldn't see an organized return. People
will return once they have reached a certain comfort level. That
threshold is different for each person or family. In order to see a
substantial influx, we will need a more stable security environment,
progress in the way of political reconciliation, and to address the
issue of squatters, lamented one of the speakers. And once IDPs
return, they will need shelter and jobs.

-- USAID: The road ahead for USAID will be characterized by leaner
programs, noted Iraq's USAID Mission Director. Due to the budget
supplemental shortfall, some projects will run at a decreased level;
some will be realigned programmatically or geographically; a few
programs will be transferred to the Government of Iraq; and certain
projects will merge in order to maximize impact of resources. The
salient features of the next generation of projects will reinforce
USAID's development of strong linkages between local and provincial
officials and empower communities to better articulate their needs.

-- MNC-I (MajGen General LeFebvre): MNC-I Deputy Commanding General
LeFebvre offered one certainty - that the way ahead will be less
military action and greater DoD-State cooperation in
capacity-building. In this regard, he echoed General Petraeus.
MNC-I is working closely with the Office of Provincial Affairs on a
strategy to re-define our terms of engagement and shift priorities.
BG LeFavre is committed to completing this strategic objective
within the next couple months. Whatever the outcome, he impressed
upon team leaders that their relationship with the battlespace
commander was essential.

-- Political: The political counselor spoke about the changing
political climate in Iraq since the Charge of the Knights offensive
in the south. He identified assumptions, opportunities, and
challenges in the new political environment. He also reiterated the
objectives for a successful mission in Iraq.

-- CETI (Coordinator for Economic Transition in Iraq): Ambassador
Charles Ries spoke about economic progress in Iraq, including recent
agreements by Gulf nations to forgive Iraqi national debt. He also
covered new developments that affected the mission in Iraq in the
U.S. supplemental appropriations bill for fiscal year 2008,
including changes to funding levels for various programs. He
discussed Iraqi Council of Representatives' legislation and what it
would mean for potential foreign investors.

-- QRF (Quick Response Funds): Two officers managing QRF funds
briefed on overall funding and spending figures for the program.
They emphasized the availability of an additional $250,000 in

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Democracy Funds. They also briefed the mechanics of the various
spending mechanisms within the QRF portfolio, including
micro-purchases, direct procurements, and grants. In addition, the
speakers discussed grant implementation through the PRT or
Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI), a USAID implementer.

-- USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture): Agriculture in Iraq is
suffering from 30 years of neglect, disrepair and lack of
organization. Sound market policies do not exist. Corruption, as
in all facets of Iraqi life, is serious. USDA is working with the
Ministry of Agriculture to develop a strategic plan for agriculture
and market-oriented trade policies. While the speaker mentioned
there were a number of projects already in operation, he noted two
major problems: land tenure for private farmers and local control of
water resources. Resolving those issues would be a big step for
Iraq's agriculture sector. USDA currently has 22 agricultural
advisors serving at 14 locations in Iraq.

-- PRDC (Provincial Reconstruction and Development Committees): A
program officer from ITAO provided an update on PRDC funds, which
support projects that both Iraqi leaders and coalition forces
establish as priorities for Iraqi reconstruction projects. The
speaker said that progress in disbursement of funds had been slower
than expected. He warned that funds for fiscal year 2007 could
expire before being obligated. The speaker proposed that all funds
allocated be consolidated and that pending projects be re-evaluated
to facilitate obligation of funds.

-- Other topics covered in the conference were MECC synchronization,
managing personalities on teams, OPA assessment plans, supplemental
and budget execution, internal management issues, strategic effects,
and public diplomacy.


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