About the Author: John Matel serves as Team Leader of the Al Asad Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq.
You cannot win a modern war by military means alone. COIN Manual says that some of the best weapons do not shoot. By the way, the COIN Manual is itself a great example of the flexible strategy it advocates. It is a living document, almost a wiki. As new experience is analyzed and digested, it changes and evolves.
Military units have long had Civil Affairs (CA) teams and Commanders' Emergency Response Funds (CERP). These improved conditions for Iraqis and certainly saved many lives. Building on this success and experience in Afghanistan, in November 2005, Secretary of State Rice established Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Iraq. In January 2007, President Bush announced the establishment of embedded PRTs, who work directly with military units such as Regimental Combat Teams.
These were civil-military teams of experts who engaged provincial and local Iraqi officials as well as ordinary Iraqi citizens. Some of their work was old fashioned diplomacy, meeting people, talking to them and listening to concerns. But unlike diplomats in many other contexts, PRT members have access to concrete resources. This development aspect, helping rebuild or in many cases just build for the first time is not entirely new, but putting it together with the interagency team of experts that made up a PRT is breaking some new ground.
PRTs are led by a senior State Foreign Service Officer with a deputy from USAID or a military colonel often as an executive officer. Among others on the team are experts on budgeting, industry, law and agriculture.
In rebuilding Iraq, damage from the 2003 invasion is often the least of our problems. Iraq has been in a state of war and/or sanctions for nearly thirty years. Many things decayed during that time and other things that could have been done never were. The Saddam Hussein regime did minimal or no maintenance on the plant and equipment. The whole country suffered the kind of socialist mismanagement seen in former communist regimes, but with an additional layer of sanctions and war. It might have been better if some of the facilities had been destroyed by CF bombs and could be rebuilt from scratch.
The physical damage can be repaired more easily than the damage to human capital. The late despotism actively destroyed most aspects of civil society, anything that might insulate the people from the dictates of the state. In former communist Europe, it was possible to find functioning civil organizations, as the fiercest aspects of Stalinism were generations in the past. In Iraq, the destruction was more recent and in some ways more though going. Ironically, sanctions and isolation helped finish the demolition Saddam started. The only viable non-governmental structure left were family/tribes and religion.
Iraq has a significant, if now distant, tradition of reasonably competent officials. PRT experts work to revive this and build on it. Iraqis are responding very quickly, considering the conditions.
COIN talks about the need to take, hold & build. CA, CERT & PRTs have helped build physical infrastructure as well as relations. The Iraqi people increasingly have a commitment to their own future and freedom. They will not easily give it up when terrorists come calling.