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U.S. PRTs Are Reconnecting Government In Iraq


Provincial Reconstruction Teams Reconnecting Government in Iraq

Military operations, reconstruction aide spur progress in Anbar province: Provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) are helping communities in one of Iraq's most troubled regions to "reconnect government," says U.S. diplomat and Anbar province team leader James Soriano.

The teams, a mixture of military personnel and civilian experts from the State Department and other U.S. government agencies, are an essential component of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where countering insurgency means balancing military operations with rebuilding activities aimed at helping area residents recover from decades of tyranny and violence.

Fourteen months ago, Anbar was a battlefield, Soriano said, recalling his arrival in the provincial capital, Ramadi. The governor arrived for work protected by a platoon of U.S. Marines, while the rest of his government was evacuated to Baghdad to escape the violence. Local governments dissolved, criminal courts suspended operations and civil servants feared for their lives.

The main cause was the "perfect storm" of negative economic consequences for the Sunni-dominated region, such as unemployment exacerbated by factory shutdowns, the breakup of Saddam Hussein's military and dismissals of members of the ruling Ba'ath party, said Marine Brigadier General John Allen.

Soriano, joined by Allen, his military counterpart, updated reporters in a press briefing from the State Department November 2 on operations in Anbar province, where the United States operates four PRTs.

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Al-Qaida in Iraq insurgents took advantage of the upheaval, Allen said, initially portraying themselves falsely as "liberators," but rapidly showed their true intentions not long after, declaring Anbar to be the starting point for their vision of an "Islamic State of Iraq."

When their extremist views were rejected by Anbar's tribes, al-Qaida in Iraq began a campaign of murder and intimidation, Allen said, targeting traditional "anchor points" including influential tribal sheikhs, doctors and teachers, as well as roads, bridges and other key infrastructure.

Even though U.S. recovery projects were limited by the fighting, Allen said that the benefits to area residents from PRT repairs to water systems, schools and medical clinics stood in stark contrast to al-Qaida's actions, and helped convince tribal leaders to join together with coalition forces. (See related article.)

ANBAR'S RESIDENTS ASSUMING CONTROL

These efforts, Allen said, "helped to restore tribal leadership's authority, and gave that leadership the ability to improve the quality of life for their people."

With approval from tribal leaders, "the sons of Anbar" have stepped forward to safeguard their communities by joining the army and police, Allen said. Army units have grown to full strength and 21,000 new police officers are on the streets, nearly twice as many as in 2006. Additionally, nearly 5,000 more recruits are on the waiting list for what Allen expects will be a 27,000-strong police force.

"These Anbaris from their own neighborhoods and own towns have control of the population centers," Allen said, Adding that this development "has made it very difficult for al-Qaida to reassert itself."

Now that the violence largely has subsided, Soriano said, PRTs are transitioning from military to civilian duties, and helping to "reconnect government."

In July, the PRTs completed renovation of government office buildings in Ramadi, where residents once again can be seen in its halls seeking services from its reopened offices.

"Virtually every city and town in the province now has a functioning local council and a mayor," Soriano said. "That was not true 14 months ago."

The teams have helped bring government and tribal leaders together across the region to communicate their needs to authorities in Baghdad, bringing more funding to Anbar to promote reconstruction and further economic development.

"Anbar province is leaving the long night of battle and entering onto a post-conflict period, with rising expectations among its citizens of better services and accountable government," Soriano said.

ENDS

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