04 September 2007
Provincial Reconstruction Teams Are Improving Lives in Iraq
Iraqi self-sufficiency is goal of PRT program
Washington -- Driving through Ramadi in Iraq's Anbar province recently, the team leader of the newly formed Provincial Reconstruction Team noticed that on a Friday when people usually were not out on the streets, there were shop owners painting their shops.
"That was great to see, especially on a Friday, because ... a couple of months ago you wouldn't have seen people out on the street," said Kristin Hagerstrom, team leader of the Ramadi Provincial Reconstruction Team, during a recent State Department briefing telecast from her headquarters.
Ramadi, the provincial capital, with a population of about 400,000, was written off as lost by many, she said. "Ramadi was declared by al-Qaida to be their capital of the caliphate in Iraq."
But all of that has changed and the city is showing new life, she said, despite initial problems with infrastructure. Improvised explosive devices and constant combat operations had destroyed roads, as well as sewer, water and electric systems.
Marine Major Lee Suttee, the civil affairs chief on the Ramadi Provincial Reconstruction Team with Hagerstrom, said in the joint briefing that since April, when the fighting seemed to stop, Ramadi has become a city on the mend, dominated by reconstruction.
The story is symbolic of what provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) are accomplishing. Thousands of Iraqis' lives are being improved through this program, begun in 2005. It aims to rebuild infrastructure while supporting local government, business and civil society.
In November 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice helped launch the first PRT in Mosul, which she said was meant "to marry our economic, military and political people in teams to help these local and provincial governments get the job [of reconstruction and political stabilization] done."
Since then, more than $20 billion in U.S. funding has gone to rebuilding Iraq's power grid and water and sewer systems while improving health care and education facilities.
Iraq's provinces currently are served by PRTs from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south. Coalition participation in the effort includes the British heading the PRT in Basra, the Italians in Dhi Qar and the Koreans in Erbil.
Ten of the teams are new "embedded" PRTs, which work closely with Army and Marine units to support the military surge in Anbar province and the greater Baghdad area.
Recent PRT achievements include establishing a business information center to promote private-sector-led growth, forming a project management office to coordinate reconstruction efforts worth $400 million, and renovating the Doura Market Complex, thereby increasing the number of open shops from two to 235.
According to the White House, the new PRTs serve an important reconstruction and counterinsurgency purpose by bolstering moderate political leaders at the local level, promoting reconciliation by fostering communication, encouraging economic development by targeting small businesses that create jobs in local communities, and building provincial capacity by unlocking Iraqi funds to help deliver essential services to communities.
"We're working at a very grassroots level on fundamentally helping the local government in its capacity to govern and deliver essential services -- water, sewer, power … to the population," Hagerstrom said.
Suttee said that before the PRTs, there was "essentially no running water. The sewer system was dysfunctional and the streets [in Ramadi] were littered with [the] debris of war. Buildings were completely collapsed and there, quite frankly, didn't seem to be quite a light at the end of the tunnel."
Now, with security tightened by the addition of more U.S. forces in Anbar, Suttee said local Iraqis have helped sponsor three reconstruction conferences that included more than 200 local contractors, and rebuilding is taking place with the enthusiastic participation of local residents. "All of this is stabilizing," he said, because "it makes people want to believe that there's a future for Ramadi."
President Bush said recently of the new embedded PRTs: "We have more than doubled the number of civilian-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams this year, most of which are embedded with U.S. combat brigades. They are essential to the 'bottom up' political progress taking place in Anbar, Diyala and other provinces across Iraq."
Foreign service officers John Matel and Paul Wedderien, who are leaving shortly for assignments with PRTs in Anbar province and Baghdad, talked recently about their missions.
"The idea is to spread out the footprint of U.S. aid," said Matel, who will help with agricultural projects, among others, in Anbar province. Matel said he will be involved in innovative programs to help Iraqis.
Wedderien said he would be working in a more urban environment in Baghdad on projects such as an ongoing partnership with Iraqi business people to establish an Iraqi Chamber of Commerce.
It is important to remember, Wedderien said, that "we [Americans] are there to help and assist the Iraqi people in their reconstruction efforts -- not tell them what to do. A great deal of Iraqi reconstruction money is being made available, and I see our [American] role as advisers who can bring their development and management experience to bear on the projects."
For more information, see Iraq Update.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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