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PRT Press Briefing, Jan. 12, 2007

Multi-National Force-Iraq

Friday, 12 January 2007
Provincial Reconstruction Team leaders discuss progress


MR. SPECKHARD: I've got a lot of information for you today. Don't worry, I'm not going to read all this. I want to make sure I have the right papers to respond to some of your questions today.

Okay. Welcome. I'm Dan Speckhard. I am the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy here in Baghdad, Iraq. And what we wanted to talk to you today about was the provincial reconstruction teams.

The president announced his new strategy the day before yesterday. I'm sure you've all been following that story closely. A key element of that is the importance of Iraqis taking the lead in the transition here in Iraq and in improving the security situation and addressing sectarian violence.

A key part of this is for Iraq to improve its ability to demonstrate that it's meeting the needs of its citizens. And as part of our effort to help them in doing this, the president announced that we would be doubling the number of our provincial reconstruction teams here in Iraq and working to assist in moving beyond the international zone and supporting the Iraqi provincial and community governments by providing additional civilian experts, by helping local communities and the work on reconciliation and strengthening moderates as they work to counter the efforts of extremists to divide communities, and to support the local communities' provincial governments in accelerating the transition to self-reliance in Iraq.

Part of this effort, as the president has said, is to provide more flexibility to our civilian and military commanders in the field and programming economic assistance to support Iraq and to support this transition effort and to improve the integration with commanders in the field in addressing the security concerns by highlighting the economic and political elements of stabilization.

I wanted today to really highlight for you what's already going on in this area, because this is what we're going to expand and strengthen in the coming months. And I thought the best way to do this was to introduce to you two of our PRT team leaders who could talk to you themselves about what's going on in their areas and what they're doing with local leaders and allow them to answer some of your questions.

I have with me today Chuck Hunter, who is the PRT team leader for Babil, and Stephanie Miley, who is the PRT team leader for Salahuddin. So I'm going to turn the mike over to you, Chuck, if you could say a few words about what you're doing in Babil with the local leaders there. And then I'll turn it over to you, Stephanie.

MR. HUNTER: Thanks very much, Ambassador Speckhard.

The Babil team was one of the first three PRTs created. It's been in operation since November of 2005, and actually grew out of a State Department operation that had been there since the previous year, regional embassy office, which is still our base of operations.

So we, as a provincial team, had the advantage of working from pre-established relationships, both with military command and with local leaders. And once the PRT was stood up, we've been able to expand those relationships and begin focusing people's energy in ways that help citizens in Babil, which, as you know, is primarily a Shi'a province.

There was really no hesitation by local leaders in engaging with the idea of democracy. It was something that they had been waiting a very long time for, as you can well imagine. So what the PRT has been able to do is provide some ideas and focus these energies so that, for example, we help the provincial council get ideas on how to run meetings, how to engage with the public. As a consequence, we've now got a local council that has a weekly radio call-in show and puts out its ideas through a newspaper. It's opening up more of its meetings to the public. There's still a ways to go, but we've got them definitely headed in the right direction.

Economically, we're engaging with business people, with farmers. Babil is primarily an agricultural province. So we've been able to focus some attention on rationalizing crop choices, for instance, creating some opportunities for business people. As we speak, there's a delegation of about 20 Babil business people returning from Dubai, from a conference there that my colleagues were able to get them signed up for and which a couple of our local employees accompanied them to.

In terms of provision of basic services to the population, we've been able to do sector studies of about a dozen different sectors, not to tell local officials where they should put their energies but simply to give them a base for their analyses to decide how to prioritize resources now that there's increasingly Iraqi government money that is coming their way to be able to address the citizens' needs.

So we're not trying to be directive but rather to make connections, to create opportunities for people. And I'm excited about the possibility of being able to expand the scope of that through the initiatives that the president has announced to begin. We hope to engage even more broadly in the province down to the district level. Our focus up to now has primarily been on the provincial council, on the government side of things. And I think there will be some more opportunities for us now.

As you can well imagine, there are also some challenges, security figuring largely among them. But we will continue to work through that. I've got colleagues there, a team of roughly 45, half-military, half-civilian, who are very deeply committed to this mission, despite the dangers we occasionally face.

The civil affairs company that is working with us now lost two of its members when it first rotated in, and yet they've engaged day in and day out and will continue to do so until the last day that they're there.

My local staff also comes to work day in and day out, even though, for some of them, that presents a very real risk. One of my colleagues unfortunately had a close relative kidnapped and killed just a couple of weeks ago, and he himself feels that he's under observation. And yet they believe in this mission too.

And so I'm very excited about the opportunity that these new resources are going to present for us, and I'm optimistic that we'll be able to direct them where they need to go, in spite of the challenges that we do face. MR. SPECKHARD: Thank you, Chuck.


MS. MILEY: Well, thank you.

actually have the fun part of standing up a PRT in Salahuddin.

Prior to my getting there in the beginning of May, there had just been one state officer there kind of working with the military, and, of course, with the local government officials. But with one person, you can imagine that was somewhat limited.

So we stood up our PRT in May of this year. We have, similar to Chuck, half-military, half-civilian. The military officers and enlisted soldiers that we have are civil affairs service as well as functional specialists, people with expertise in a number of different areas. And the civilians that we have are from the Department of State, the Department of Justice, Department of Agriculture and USAID. And we also have people from RTI, which is the USAID implementer that works on local governance and infrastructure issues. So we have a great team that's very excited about what we've been able to do to date.

We work closely with the provincial level government officials on five key areas. The four that are sort of throughout all of the PRTs are governance, economics, rule of law and infrastructure. And then, because in our province we have what's designated as a key city -- that's Samarra -- we also have a small focused stabilization team that's working to assist efforts in Samarra.

For governance, our key focus is increasing transparency and accountability, kind of the hallmarks of democracy. And the way that we go about doing that is we work very closely with the provincial council, the governor's office.

What has come about recently that's been a tremendous, you know, achievement, I think, is that two years ago members of the provincial council legal committee had drafted rules of procedure for the council, but they had never been put in place. And because of that, there was, rather than what we would think of as a normal provincial or kind of democratic process, there was more of an autocratic process going on where the provincial council chair was kind of making decisions.

So they recently decided, after we had discussed with them about issues of increasing transparency, to bring the media in to watch the procedures of the provincial council, putting out minutes and things. They enacted these rules of procedure, and they are now following them, voting in quorum, putting out minutes of the meeting and allowing the media to cover them. We also are working in the governance area on fiscal management. As you can imagine, it's critically important for them to be able to properly manage all of the resources that they have available since resources are scarce and there's a great need out there to use them wisely.

And so we're working with the provincial accounting office to help them get some fairly simple but usable Microsoft Excel spreadsheets from which they can produce graphs and charts so that the elected officials will be able to see where the money is being directed. You know, is it going across the whole province? Are they having enough money devoted to certain infrastructure projects, et cetera? So I think that's a big step forward.

Rule of law; the key issue there, of course, is fair and equitable access to justice. We're working with the judiciary, the police and the detention facility officials. We started a few months ago a monthly meeting of all of those officials coming together.

There hadn't been a tradition of them communicating with each other very closely, and so we thought that might help, because one of the key issues out there, for instance, for the police, the police may pick somebody up for some kind of activity, but they don't have as much training as they would like on preserving evidence and making a strong case that would go before an investigative judge so that it could be properly prosecuted.

So coming out of our initial meeting that we hosted and now they have -- the Iraqis are starting to call the meetings themselves and have them. They brought up -- made a decision to have the investigative judges give some classes at the police academy to teach the police officers how to better preserve evidence and things like that so they could make stronger cases.

For economic development, we're trying to enhance the business climate there. And some of the ways that we're doing that are we're looking into microfinance. We're meeting with the business community, talking to them about some plans for the possibility of doing, like, an economic development zone where people would have the space to develop skills such as welding and repair of equipment and things like that. And hopefully that will generate some money in the economy as these people, their trade and their services are being used. It will start kind of building some -- generating some economic development there.

Infrastructure; a key issue for infrastructure has been the -- we haven't had the best vertical integration we would like on infrastructure projects, meaning that at the qada (ph) or nahia (ph), the city and town level, does not always interact effectively with the provincial government to explain to them what kinds of projects they want. Well, the difficulty with that is that any kind of operating and maintenance budget is going to come out of the central government. And without the provincial government being aware, they can't sustain the projects. So we're working closely with engineers at the local level and at the provincial level to assist in that.

And then, finally, with focused stabilization with Samarra, we're coordinating closely with the battalion element that's there to work on those issues.

And just different than Chuck, I'm actually co-located at the brigade headquarters -- well, and it's also the division headquarters at Camp Speicher in Tikrit. So we work daily with the military components there.

MR. SPECKHARD: Good. Thank you, Stephanie.

I think that gives you a good summary of what they're working on and some of the different elements of the day-to-day work of our PRTs and the PRT team leaders.

So with that, I'd like to open it up to questions to get a sense of what you're interested in learning more about.

Q Hi. Louise Roga (sp), LA Times.

So we understand that the PRTs have been in place for more than a year now and that there's more money and resources coming in general. But it seems that some of the challenges haven't been of resources alone. What are you going to do that's -- (inaudible) -- different?

And secondly, how are you going to overcome the challenge of getting state people -- there's going to be an increase of state personnel. How are you going to get people out here?

MR. SPECKHARD: Well, on the former, I think part of the president's strategy in the review process that led to that was to take a look out here and to see what was working and what wasn't. And I think, as a result of that review, as a result of the discussions that the administration has had with Iraqis, with experts, with the Baker-Hamilton commission, with others, all led to the conclusion that the PRTs were an important element of what was working out here and what was important, actually, for accelerating the transition to self- reliance here in Iraq.

So this comes from something that has been working and that we had sensed needed to be further strengthened. It reinforces those important aspects; decentralization. That is an important element of success and getting closer to the local communities and to the grassroots in terms of having an effect on citizens; partly what we've learned with our reconstruction assistance effort, which was the need to move towards more smaller, more immediate-impact projects, to listen more closely to the Iraqi local leaders and helping understand what their needs were. All of these elements are what sort of led us to realize that this is an important program that needs to be strengthened.

The challenge of getting civilians out here is an important one that we need to address. But I think, at the same time, we've done very well over the last year in standing up at fully operational capability nine of these, and expect another one to be opened up in the coming weeks. And they have been staffed with, as Stephanie has said in her PRT, and it's true for all of them, multi-agencies have contributed to this and we've gotten experts from the private sector who have been hired to also support this effort.

So I think you'll find that in the coming months that we will be able to identify individuals from the government and from outside the government on the civilian side that will step up to the plate for this truly important challenge.

Q You talk about bringing people in from the private sector as well. Do you have a sense of what the mix would be, state to private personnel?

MR. SPECKHARD: I don't have that off the top of my head in terms of what the expansion will be. But what we've seen in the past is that, particularly as we look for experts, we've often gone to private experts to help support us in this. We hire them as if they're government officials when they come on, but, in fact, their expertise comes from the private sector.

So I expect we'll continue to do that. And it will depend on the community, depend on the province, in terms of whether they need more agricultural experts or business experts or engineers kind of people.

Q Matt Brown from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. I've got a question for Stephanie Miley, please.

Could you tell us, how has your work in specific terms reduced the willingness of Iraqis in your province to be involved in violence?

MS. MILEY: Well, I think that one of the key elements that we're trying to do is to give the average citizen the faith in their government, you know, so that they feel that they have a stake in the future. And I think we do that in two ways. One is through political development and the other is economic development.

Salahuddin is kind of different in that, you know, it's in the Sunni heartland. Many of the people in the province had boycotted the election. I think now many of them are seeing that that maybe was a mistake and that casting their vote was a better choice in trying to shape the future.

So when we work with the local officials, the provincial council and the governor's office, we also work with the directors general of the ministries that are present there to get out projects to the local communities and help them see what's going on. I think they feel now that there's more openness in their government. They're seeing media coverage of the provincial council meetings. They're feeling like the government is working for them.

So I think that that gives people a sense of hope and a sense that there's something for them to invest in in the future; same with economic development as we look for projects that are, you know, trying to, as we say, enhance the business climate, looking at microcredit or things like that.

And, you know, I think that what we have also at Salahuddin is that it was a province that had a large proportion of civil servants, military members and, you know, others of that group, not so much the business. And agriculture -- you know, Chuck was saying that Babil is very heavily agricultural. So we're trying to help people see there are other opportunities out there, and they're looking at expanding agribusiness. You know, yes, they all grow tomatoes, but let's look into food processing, transportation networks and things like that.

So I think that's what we're trying to do. And I believe that we're seeing a good effect out of that, because there are also radio call-in shows. I've done some interviews with the local press where people have written in about, you know, their thoughts on what's going on in the province.

So I think, you know, we're seeing a turnaround particularly, as I say, Salahuddin having been an area where the Sunni population had decided to boycott, but they now are much in favor of participating. And so that's probably the best achievement.

MR. SPECKHARD: I'd like to add to that, too, in terms that we don't have with us today the Baghdad PRT represented, but that's a key element obviously in Baghdad in terms of the stabilization and reducing sectarian violence. And in talking to Iraqis and local community leaders, there's a strong sense that it's important for the local government to not allow a vacuum to occur that militias or armed groups or other associations step into to try to fill.

And so I think there is an experience on the ground that suggests that, to the extent that local community leaders, provincial government leaders, district-level leaders can start filling that need to be able to respond to its citizens, you have less space for militias to try to move on and say, "Hey, well, if the government can't do this, we'll start doing that, providing services, meeting your needs." And at the same time, they have that undesirable effect of actually causing additional friction, sectarian friction, and as a result, oftentimes sectarian violence.

Q Nobody else will, so --

MR. SPECKHARD: It's early on a Friday. (Laughs.) Q Obviously some PRTs have been more successful than others. You think about Anbar, what's happening in Anbar, and, of course, because of the security challenges. How are you going to overcome those challenges of pushing out funds and resources on an equitable basis to the various PRTs and provinces?

MR. SPECKHARD: Well, I would say there's a couple of elements there. One, these PRTs are meant really to be flexible in terms of how they're designed in each province in terms of size, in terms of the interactions that they have, in terms of how they're designed, the areas that they focus on.

In a case like Anbar, you're going to have to have a much greater level of integration in terms of the work with the local commanders out there, particularly on the security side. So they're going to be much more embedded with the local brigades and division out there in terms of how they actually have to function, whereas in other provinces, such as in Babil, the PRT there actually isn't located on a base. It's a separate stand-alone embassy location. And as a result, they operate differently than they do in Anbar.

The second part of your question was --

Q (Inaudible) -- it takes place on an equitable basis -- (inaudible).

MR. SPECKHARD: Yeah. Well, we do move our economic resources to all the provinces, and we sort of try to divide them fairly equally in general but then have additional emphasis on those areas that have additional security challenges. So Baghdad, by its size, by its population and by its challenge on the stability and security side, we provide some additional economic resources to that PRT. Anbar, we've also provided some additional funds to to help to focus on the stabilization component of that.

But I think one of the key things I'd like to highlight is what Stephanie was talking about earlier. This isn't so much about U.S. government resources. It's about supporting Iraqis being able to program their own resources. That's the self-reliance thing. This is really about transitioning to Iraqis being able to successfully do the governance and economic work that they need to do in their own provinces.

So a lot of it's about the issue of budget execution, ensuring that the resources from the central government get to the provinces and that, once they get to the provinces, they're programmed in a way that provincial government leaders can be proud of in terms of managing those resources and funds.

And that's a big challenge for Iraq, particularly in these provincial governments, who haven't had a lot of responsibilities in the past. Those decisions used to be made all by the central authoritarian regime in a very centralized way. So this is a new responsibility for many of these provincial leaders.

Q Ned Colt with NBC.

Is there a budget for the first year of the program for the nine offices which now exist in that? Is there any sense of what you're going to be getting? And I know that they're still crunching numbers back in Washington, but for the next year of the program.

MR. SPECKHARD: Yeah, we had roughly approximately a range of $300 million for assistance through the provincial reconstruction teams. I can't speak to what it will be next year, as the president's budget is still being finalized and will be sent to Congress, I understand, in the coming weeks. So I'll have to get back to you on that.

Q Are you getting a sense that they're increasing it dramatically in a new way with their increased emphasis on it?

MR. SPECKHARD: My sense is that there's a desire to increase the resources available to the provincial reconstruction teams. So I do expect that they will have additional resources at their disposal. A key element of this, though, is that they are charged with trying to integrate all of the government efforts at the provincial level, ensuring that there's good integration across programs.

So our military commanders have something called the CERP fund, commanders' emergency relief funds, and those actually are -- the decisions are made by the commanders on the ground, but they work very closely with our PRT team leaders to make sure that there is a good integration of effort there.

In addition to what the PRT team leaders have at their direct access, there's also more broad economic assistance programs and efforts. Stephanie was talking about the community stabilization program. That's an effort to help job creation programs, working with local commanders to make a quick impact on the ground. That kind of program has resources as well available to them.

So there's a whole host and range of different resources that they can draw upon to put these things together. And I think what you'll see is the role that they play on the economic assistance front and the resources that they have that they will be coordinating will grow as the overall assistance effort we're doing here actually declines.

Q This is getting a little bit embarrassing.

MR. SPECKHARD: Our resident expert in the press corps. Q In terms of the -- I believe it was about $10 billion, the Iraqi government surplus. I believe that the government has faced some criticism from the World Bank and the IMF, who are none too happy that they are hoarding all this money when there's outstanding debts.

My first question is, does Iraq face any kind of financial kind of fines or any kind of -- what's the word?

Q Penalties?

Q Penalties, thank you -- for not having spent this money? And secondly, some of the cities, like Tall Afar, were waiting for money from the central government after the offensive there last year, I believe it was. Has that money been distributed yet?

MR. SPECKHARD: Well, the international community doesn't have penalties. I guess if they don't spend their budget as rapidly as they indicated, there is the penalty self-imposed on Iraq that those programs, funds and efforts are very important to the stabilization effort in Iraq and actually meeting the needs of its citizens. So it's not that there's an international community penalty on Iraq; it's more it's the cost to itself of not being able to fulfill its functions as a government.

I know the government is very seized with this challenge. They have put a major emphasis on improving budget execution here in 2007. And I know the minister of finance, the deputy prime minister for economic affairs and others, as part of that central economic team for the prime minister, are working on a number of measures that they can undertake this year to put more resources into the hands of the program managers and get more resources into the hands of Iraqis.

So I think what you're going to be seeing this year is that if ministries aren't able to spend their funds, that they will, over time, readjust and there will be, in essence, a penalty for those ministries who aren't effective in doing that. And those ministries that can are rewarded for that. And that, in turn, should serve as an incentive to improve that. They're also, I think, intending to get more resources more quickly from the Ministry of Finance to the program ministries so they can start working on that earlier in the year.

As you may remember, last year there was a period between the elections and when the new government was formed. It was a fair number of months during which the central government was not really in a position to move out smartly in its programs, policies and spending of its resources.

So as you look at last year, part of this challenge was the government really only had half a year to try to accomplish a whole year's objectives. So they, I know, do intend to try to work much harder on this issue. It's a priority for them. Q Did they get this money back to -- (inaudible)?

MR. SPECKHARD: I'll have to get back to you in terms of the actual distribution of those funds, but I do know that the Ministry of Finance did actually transfer funds from the central government to Tall Afar, to Anbar province, and as well some of those areas that had been a problem in the past, and they have made progress in that.

MS. MILEY: And I would just say, this is some DFI funding. Samarra is one of those cities also where the provincial government and the city government are working with the central government to work through the process of doing that. So they're very much involved right now in getting that funding for Samarra as one of those cities.

Q Matt Brown, ABC Australia.

Stephanie, could you tell us, how have security problems in your province hampered your work? Have you had incidents like Chuck described?

MS. MILEY: Yes, we have. I mean, security is an issue everywhere. In Salahuddin, we have not seen, as some other provinces have, the kind of random acts of violence, the market bombings kind of thing. We've seen only isolated incidents of that.

What we face more often is the targeting of government officials, those who are working with coalition forces or just simply those who are working towards a more democratic future for Iraq. We've lost a number of close colleagues, actually, because of that; directors general for agriculture and electricity. One was assassinated. The other one was kidnapped and not heard of again.

We've lost several judges who've been assassinated or kidnapped. We've lost a provincial council member, several sheikhs that we've dealt with. It's really a tribute to the courage of the Iraqis that we work with that they see this. It happens not just to them. They're targeted, clearly, but their family members also.

On July 11th, the governor's wife was assassinated. She was the head surgeon of the maternity ward at the Tikrit teaching hospital and a woman who was really dedicated to making a difference in Iraq for the women of Iraq. And unfortunately, terrorists blew up her clinic while she was there.

So it's very sobering, because we do see this all the time. And it's a terrible blow to the team when people that we work with and that we care about are facing this kind of risk and unfortunately paying the price of standing up for a better future for Iraq. But, you know, every day I'm just amazed because they keep coming back and doing it. And, you know, just this past week the sheikh who is the head of the provincial sheikhs' council, Sheikh Naji (ph), was kidnapped. And he was a man who, a week before, had stood up on Al-Jazeera and was condemning al Qaeda and the terrorists who are, you know, just wreaking havoc on the people of the community, not just in Salahuddin but elsewhere.

And so, as I say, they pay a terrible price. It's something that, I think, gives the team renewed kind of emphasis on we have to work with these people because they are every day risking themselves to do something quite extraordinary. And if we can help in some small way to move them forward, then that's just such an honor for us to do.

But, yes, I'd say we see the same thing. And the local interpreters that we have are threatened. But every day they come back to work, and that's really something amazing to see that, because, as I say, I don't know, if the same circumstances, would I be able to do that. But they are. It's inspiring.

MR. HUNTER: I spoke only of losses and challenges that the team had faced. But certainly among our contacts as well there are similar sorts of things to what Stephanie was talking about; the commander of the Hillah SWAT team and his deputy were assassinated by a bomb in October; people whom I had met with on a weekly basis for security coordination.

The police chief has survived numerous assassination attempts, but he continues to both work and speak in ways that demonstrate his commitment to serving all the people of the province; recruiting more Sunni police officers, for example, integrating them into his force and seeing that the law is applied without regard to sect. The chief justice of the province takes exactly the same approach. And these are inspirational figures with whom we get to work. It's an amazing opportunity, frankly.

MR. SPECKHARD: And I do think that's part of the reason why it's so important that we strengthen our effort in this area with those brave and courageous Iraqis out there who are taking the lead and trying to improve their country. To be able to stand by them is a privilege.

Okay, did we cover your questions today? We look forward to continuing to work with you and provide you information as this new initiative rolls out in the coming weeks and months. And, as always, it's been a pleasure to be with you.


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