Iraq: PRTs, ePRTs and the Holistic Approach

Posted by John Matel
June 24, 2008
John Matel at a School in Iraq

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.

Comments

Comments

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
June 25, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

John, do you think this is a matter of "winning hearts and minds" or simply "assisted" self realization by the people in their having a vested interest in peace?

Syrian P.
|
Syria
June 25, 2008

SNP in Syria writes:

Look at that impressive mud hut skyline. Under SOFA that will be the Iraqi skyline in the year 2109 when oil dries up. Until then, Shia in Iraq will live on rice and maze handouts, goodwill from the Bush New World Oil Conglomerate for a century of tea serving and show shining the GI's of SOFA. Soon it will not be called XOM anymore, its C&B oil Conglomerate.

Zharkov
|
United States
June 25, 2008

Zharkov in U.S.A. writes:

Excuse me for being skeptical, but our guy in Iraq who destroyed the functioning civil organizations received a medal from the president.

Yes, the mud huts with dirt floors are very impressive; Iraqi people are so lucky they can grow corn in their bedrooms. One could only guess where the oil money is going because it does not appear to be replacing Iraq's demolished houses. Has anyone thought of perhaps builing a few extra concrete plants in case someone finds a building contractor who hasn't emigrated?

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
June 25, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Sorry to hear about the recent loss of State Dept and Coalition members John. Sincere condolences to friends and family.

Best.

John M.
|
Iraq
June 26, 2008

DipNote Blogger John Matel writes:

Zharkov

I don't know who you mean by "our guy" and I suspect you really do not know either.

The background of the picture, BTW, is a vocational school. The buildings are made of brick and are three or four stories high. The part of Iraq where I work does not have many people. You would not expect high rises.

Re concrete plants, we have a couple in Western Al Anbar. Western Iraq can produce concrete in quantity, but the plant and equipment in place is old and was poorly maintained for many years. What the plants need is an infusion of technology, capital and more modern management. A plant in Al Qaim has just entered into an agreement with a Romanian firm for a joint venture. Others are looking for partners.

We have no shortage of building contractors around here. A construction boom is developing in some of the towns and property values are rising. We do have a shortage of skilled and semi-skilled workers to do these projects, which is why the vocational schools are so important.

SNP

You may want to find out what a SOFA is and read a little about Iraq's oil reserves. Maybe then I can comment on what you are talking about.

BTW - living in nearby Syria does not give someone any special knowledge re Iraq.

Eric

On my own blog www.johnsonmatel.com/blog1 I have a longer version of this article which addresses some of your questions.

I don't think of this as a hearts and minds campaign. The people of Western Al Anbar want some of the same things we do. They want to live in peace and prosperity and they want us to be able to leave a place that is stable, reasonably democratic and not threatening, so we are all working toward the same goal.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
June 26, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Thanks John,

John wrote:

"I don't think of this as a hearts and minds campaign. The people of Western Al Anbar want some of the same things we do. They want to live in peace and prosperity and they want us to be able to leave a place that is stable, reasonably democratic and not threatening, so we are all working toward the same goal."

John, I had to laugh when someone put it in terms of "winning hearts and minds", because all it takes is to look at the photo on your blog of the soldier shaking hands with the Iraqi boy to make one wonder exactly who's heart and mind is being won at that particular moment.

If you ask me, I think the kid was winning...(chuckle).

As I told Zharkov on another thread, "it's a two-way street".

It is often portrayed that we are winning in Iraq.

That we won in Afghanistan.

Reality is that the Afghan and Iraqi people are the ones winning their future with a little help from their freinds.

It is said that we do this to make America safe, when in reality humanity at large is safer because of it.

Some will try to point blame on failure, but will they place the blame properly for success?

Thanks for confirming something I've been suspecting all along. That it's a common purpose at work creating the success we see today.

Would it put a dent in the dysfunctionality you speak of for the President to shock the American people and say "We arn't winning in Iraq, the Iraqi people are with a little help and solidarity from their friends."???

I don't know, but I don't think it would NOT hurt to put it in those terms.

Syrian P.
|
Syria
June 27, 2008

SNP in Syria writes:

Here are the top 10 not so obscene terms of (SOFA- Slaves of America) MR. Matel, let me know if you want to hold Passport of a country that lives under these terms.

1. U.S. forces would be free to attack via Iraqi airspace, land or waterways any country which threatens global and regional peace and security, menaces Iraqi government and constitution, or instigates terrorist and paramilitary groups.

2. U.S. forces would have the right to set up additional military bases and stations inside Iraq that will support the Iraqi army. The number of the bases would depend on several factors, including the security conditions the U.S. government deems desirable, negotiations with the US Embassy in Baghdad and the US command as well as discussions with the Iraqi Defense Ministry and relevant authorities.

3. The Iraqi government and its judiciary would not have the right to prosecute American forces or individuals. The immunity measure would extend to the U.S.. military, security, non-military and logistics firms affiliated with the U.S. Army.

4. The Iraqi government would not have the right to independently determine whether U.S. forces inside Iraq are qualified, nor would it have the right to limit or determine the size of American military bases and their routes.

5. U.S. security forces would have the right to build security centers, particularly their own special prisons, to maintain security.

6. U.S. forces would have the right to use their privilege to arrest those who threaten peace and security without a warrant from the Iraqi government or its institutions.

7. The U.S. government must be informed of and negotiated with on Iraq's regional and international relations as well as signing of agreements so as to safeguard the country's security and constitution.

8. U.S. forces will control Iraq's defense, interior and intelligence ministries for 10 years to carry out efforts toward training and enabling their staff, a measure which would mean even the weapons used by Iraqi forces and their types must be employed with the consent of U.S. forces.

9. The agreement to be signed would be a pact rather than a treaty.

10. US forces would remain in Iraq for an unspecified and presumably lengthy period depending on conditions in the country. Future reviews on the matter would depend on the US and Iraqi governments. Any review would only be made under certain preconditions, including that Iraq's security and military organizations improve their performance; the country's security situation improves; national reconciliation takes place; neighboring countries are warned; the Iraqi government regains complete control throughout the country; and put an end to the presence of paramilitary forces inside Iraq.

Regarding Iraq oil reserves / oil revenue, the information I am looking is reliable and confirm facts more than what the U.S. Geological team or Auditors willing to admit publicly. The C&B New World Conglomerate is insisting that Iraq should deal exclusively with U.S. oil companies on no bid basis for the revamp of oil installation and exports. The country of Iraq is just an oil storage tank that needs to be pumped out. There are confirmed reports that the U.S. with some help from corrupt Iraqis have since day one of invasion of Iraq been pumping oil from undeclared field and piping the liquid to Kuwait for export, of which the revenue is not repatriated to the Iraqi Government, huge unmetered pumping operation that is not accounted for has been going on for years. The same con-men that are doing the pumping are also running the speculative future market with the cash revenue from the illegal pumping operation, deliberately to raise prices and pocket the max profit on the sale, in total disregard to the interest of the U.S economy or American consumers. They are racking up billions of illicit offshore cash dally.

Iraq war was not about fighting terrorism or removing Saddams WMD. If the Crusaders invader had not known for a fact that Iraq WMD is non existence and have been scrubbed clean they would had first used International help to remove it, but in fact they refused such a help. They invaded to gain control of Iraq oil resources and hoard the cash offshore.

John you need to get your head up from the sand bucket and into an oil bucket dude. You may be sincere in your love to your job and the service you are providing to the Iraqis, but you will probably do them more help if you to start snoop around and publish your fact findings than helping them paint the mud huts for the next 100 years.

Zharkov
|
United States
June 26, 2008

Zharkov in U.S.A. writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico -- Eric, you know his name, don't you? Paul Bremer began the de-Baathification program after Saddam went into hiding.

De-Baathification is something which most Iraqi people agree was a huge mistake.

Yes, Iraq needs new concrete plants. That is why I wrote so. They do not cost very much to build and a little oil money would take care of it if the Iraq government cared to offer secured government loans to help out. Oh sure, everything will work out fine in Iraq, until Iran is attacked. Then we will need to go to "plan B". We do have a "plan B" don't we?

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
June 27, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Aye, I'm not doin' so well with those double negatives...

(correction to previous post)

"I don't know, but I don't think it would NOT hurt to put it in those terms."

(chuckle)....I was hoping the President would.

SNP, the SOFA negotiations are being held outside the general public's view, so that those that pretend to know what the negotiations include are exposed for their ignorance.

Go figure.

John
|
Greece
June 27, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Zharkov in U.S.A. -- I do not know about your "conspiracy" alphabetical plans, but I am sure that there are plenty of a,b,c,d,e plans, until the final and expected F, which stands for FREEDOM and FINAL.

Z,
[I like this Joe (Z)]
I see that you inspire comparative linguistic creations. After the "Utopia of Soviet America", now, you inspired SNP to say SOFA (Slaves of America).
What's next? A new Webster's?

I would recommend you to read the COIN once more. After all, a "coin" has only two sides, but only one price.

Syrian P.
|
Syria
June 27, 2008

SNP in Syria writes:

@ Eric in New Mexico -- Ohhhhh Suuuuure, the real SOFA negotiation, the one that is not for the public fools, is in fact trying to convince the bough and owned Iraqi Shia to include all the amendments to the U.S. Constitution as well.

It does not matter, Bush bought all the thugs that he need to have it signed, don't think we will be upset, let the Shia be ruled under SOFA, will help the Sunni Iraqis stay masters and the Shia will be shoe shining GI boots and serving tea till eternity, and that is good, hope you will have it signed and sealed for 500 years Bush. The Shia of Iraq are not our problem, it is the Ayatollah dignity and problem. Shia of Lebanon is our problem. We will deal with it effectively.

Zharkov
|
United States
June 27, 2008

Zharkov in U.S.A. writes:

"Plan B" is our exit strategy. President Bush has one for himself on January 21, 2009, but I am afraid America does not have one for Iraq.

After Israel, or America, attacks Iran for whatever reason, you can forget ever leaving Iraq. Iraq will become our aircraft carrier in the middle east.

I do not know how long you retain your thoughts, but if you thought that Iraq was a quick victory as advertised by Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Cheney before the invasion, you obviously have forgotten them. I like to remember what we were told by the administration during their campaign to convince us to invade Iraq. I hope you remember what they are saying today before we attack or support Israel in their attack on Iran. Just as we were forced to invade Iraq, we will be forced to invade Iran. It will be a very, very, long war. Vietnam lasted about 11 years; Iraq began in 1990 and is so far, 18 years. Iran may be about the same. If this is in America's "national interest", then we need to abolish that concept.

JOE
|
Tennessee, USA
June 27, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

Perhaps the best solution to it all is the local colors I hear repeatly from the OLD GUARD guys of WWII and onward:

Turn it all into a sheet of glass and start over...

LOL

Could not resist... that is the good old boy and old guard proposal from day one and still going strong. Why care when your hurting at home.

We need to rebuild America now right?

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
June 27, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ SNP in Syria -- It should be obvious that you can't have a million negotiators at the table. That's why Iraqis voted for people to represent then in their capacity as members of the Iraqi gov. to do so on their behalf.

Shia and Suni interests are represented in these negotiations.

John was telling you strait. If you look at the dozens of agreements we have of this kind with other soverign nations, it is a mutual agreement that has well served both our nation and theirs over the years.

Your interest in these matters is only due to your opposition to America's presence in the region, not in support of Iraqi independance.

Who exactly do you think you are trying to fool?

Remember SNP, the only "Crusaders" there are there are the religious nut cases blowing innocent people up with car bombs. They wish to create a "Califate" do they not?

Typical....folks accuse us of exactly what they themselves are guilty of.

I think you owe John Matel an appology....but I doubt if you are capable of understanding why.

Zharkov
|
United States
June 27, 2008

Zharkov in U.S.A. writes:

Why should SNP not object to a US "presence" in Iraq?

Does he not have every right to do so?

If you lived in New Mexico, would you object to Syrian army bases in Texas?

If you lived in Tennessee, would you accept Chinese PLA checkpoints in your neighborhood?

Are we so ready to impose our occupation and our empire on other cultures that we forget the "Golden Rule" about doing unto others?

Stop and think a minute - we wrote the Declaration of Independence, it was not imposed on us by other nations.

And what does that Declaration say? It says people have the right to violently resist an occupying army (the British Redcoats in our case) and establish their own government. At the very least, SNP has the right to complain about an attempt to abolish forever the sovereignty of Iraq.

Syrian P.
|
Syria
June 27, 2008

SNP in Syria writes:

@J.Matel
Don't take it personally John. I am sure you are well intentioned person and have the noble ideal to do what you are doing personally. It just happens that when you post and expose yourself, you become a symbol and an Icon for something. Just like when I stuck my head out for SNP or Bush takes all the rap that suppose to be forwarded into others. So don't take our words personally, cause they are not really directed at John Matel, the person or what he is doing.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
June 27, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

He would Zharkov, except Iraq is not Syrian territory.

As I said, you seem to defend the most untennable positions possible.

Are you entertained yet? Short answer, no he doesn't.

Are you suggesting it would be ok for someone in opposition to our presence to blow themselves up along with some women and kids?

No? Then perhaps you will suggest to SNP like I have that maybe it's not a good idea for Iran to give visa to every wannabe martyr from their embassies and fly them into Damascus on a one-way ticket to Iraq.

Another reason I suggested he stock up on canned food and bottled water if Assad continues on the path he has chosen.

Patience is running out.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
June 28, 2008

Eric in New Mexico writes:

SNP suffers from "group think", a collective dysfunctionality that supports an untennable status quo and a mindset that does not bode well for Syria's national interest in the long run.

What they don't understand is that this mindset they have only serves those who would advocate Joe's "sheet of glass" solution....which isn't much of a solution when one contemplates living with the results.

We Americans take a lot of abuse for doing things the hard way, but if turning a nation into a sheet of glass sounds easy....remember why we are doing it the hard way instead.

Americans as a general rule like to see the "underdog" win against all odds...true in sports, and in life.

It is I think because America is what folks make of it that we can nuture Iraqis to make of Iraq, what they will.

Above all is a sense of fair play, and the patience born of our own struggle to perfect the Democratic experiment.

All the innuendo and accusations of ill intent cannot put a dent in the basic truth behind why we choose to do things the hard way, because as hard as it is, as much as it costs us on many levels, it is the right way to ensure a better future for millions of people. Including the American people.

Despite the Allies reducing Germany and Japan to rubble in WW2, there are three things that enabled the German and Japanese people to move on into the future without broad resentment for what was wrought upon them.

The first is that they made a fundemental realization that their own leadership was to blame for their destruction as nations.

The second was The Marshall Plan to rebuild both nations.

The third was the people's will to rebuild their nations in a way that assured no leader would ever be able to take them over oblivion's cliff ever again.

John's efforts are a small part of this in Iraq today.

Folks may complain, but I wonder if they really understand just how much worse it could have been had we done things the "easy" way.

How much worse it would have been to leave Saddam in power, or the Taleban for that matter. I do not believe any mistake was made by removing either from power in the way we did.

"disasterous"???? I think not, when one considers the alternatives.

Having read Sun Tzu, and understanding one of his basic military precepts was that one never allows the enemy to dictate the place or timing of battle....The Admin and Al Quaida are in public agreement on one thing, "Iraq is the central front in the war on terror"...and unless we change that parameter, we have allowed an enemy to dictate the terms.

So then, in the interests of global peace and security, we must not remain in static defense of freedom, but place the war on terrorism in its proper place, not in the streets of those we have liberated, but on the home turf of our enemies.

Speaking only for myself as an individual, I find the concept of "the long war" wholy unacceptable for one basic fundamental reason, it will be my kids and their kids who'll have to win it.

Constructing a lasting peace is indeed the work of generations, but we don't have generations to stop those who would destroy the hopes for peace via terrorism, proliferation of WMD, and initiation of sectarian conflict.

No offense do I mean to anyone in saying this....wish I knew a better way to articulate what I see as "the bottom line" as it were.

As long as the leading sponsor of terrorism exists as safe haven next door to the fledgling democracies we've helped establish over the last 7 years, no amount of troops, no amount of diplomacy, and no amount of money spent in nation building will change the dynamics of the instability created by those who want, and have been engaged in war with the US over several decades.

That said, I am in full agreement with the President when he said,

"And the Shia extremists have achieved something that al Qaeda has so far failed to do: In 1979, they took control of a major power, the nation of Iran, subjugating its proud people to a regime of tyranny, and using that nation's resources to fund the spread of terror and pursue their radical agenda."
(Excerpt from speech-President Discusses Global War on Terror Capital Hilton Hotel ,Washington, D.C.)

But it's not easy to change institutional behavior. Nor easy to build capacity from scratch as we did in the concept and implementation of "nation building"

We just flat haven't done this for half a century and Condi is right, it's not the role best played by the military.

But without civilian capacity being tapped in an institutional framework, what is the alternative?

Well that framework is being created, PRT's being at the cutting edge of nation building is a good start in a multi-agency aspect. And it is good to see the healthy realationship between DoD and DoS become truly symbiotic in nature.

John M.
|
Iraq
June 29, 2008

DipNote Blogger John Matel writes:

Eric

Yes. Iraqis mostly have the same goals we do. We should not let anybody talk about this like a war of Iraq v US. It is really Iraq AND the US v terrorists and chaos.

SNP

We have SOFA (status of forces agreements) with some great countries, such as Germany, Japan, UK etc. In fact, I am sure it is true that countries that have SOFAs with the U.S. are much more free and prosperous, as a group, than those that do not. SOFAs do not cause this, but clearly a security partnership with the U.S. is a positive thing for everybody involved.

Re mud huts? Iraq is not made up of mud huts and we have not painted, repaired or done anything to any of them. Most of my team's work regards building capacity and a lot of agricultural and environmental projects. Some day, soon, Iraq will be the most prosperous and democratic nation in the Arab world. This would not have happened with Saddam in power. Maybe the good things will spread to others.

Zharkov

Iraq has cement companies. I have seen a couple of them. By coincidence, my father was a cement worker and I worked in a cement plant for four summers to pay my way through college. These plants are about the level I remember - but I was working in them thirty years ago. Much of the plant & equipment in Iraq is old and poorly maintained and there are legacy costs involved. They are producing product. But please recall that insurgents were still terrorizing this area only a little more than a year ago. It takes a little time to get everything up to speed.

Eric
|
New Mexico, USA
July 2, 2008

Erin in New Mexico writes:

@ DipNote Blogger John Matel -- (chuckle) John Matel;, I could spend my life endlessly wondering why Iraqis have figured that out, while many of my fellow Americans have yet to.

It never ceases to amaze me to what political inuuendo is spouted from narcissistic self flagelation and a lack of national self worth among my fellow citizens. Never mind the international "peanut galley"...

Nothing worthy doing comes easy.

Kirk
|
Kentucky, USA
July 20, 2008

Kirk in Kentucky writes:

@ John,

Thank you for the article.

In your estimate, what are the current needs regarding the civilian infrastructure? What is needed most, materially and personnel wise, and what's the ease or difficulty in procuring these things? You mentioned the need for skilled and semi-skilled workers, but what skills in particular? And my last questions, what resources (besides oil) and material does the nation have an abundance of? Related, what are some facilitates that you thankfully don't have to worry about as an immediate concern?

Thanks again, I'm looking forward to your reply and seeing the progress of your reconstruction team. Keep up the good work.

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