Iraq in Transition: Dispatches From the Frontlines of Diplomacy

Posted by Martina Strong
February 24, 2011
FSO Strong With Colonels Kauzlarich, Hensley in Iraq

About the Author: Martina Strong is a Foreign Service Officer who served in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs as a Foreign Policy Advisor (POLAD) with U.S. Division -- South in Basrah, Iraq, from June 2009-December 2010."Transition" was the one defining theme of my 18 months in southern Iraq, where I served as a Foreign Policy Advisor, or POLAD, to U.S. Division-South based in Basrah. As a Foreign Service Officer, I had the rare and invaluable opportunity to work, travel, eat, and live side by side with soldiers of two U.S. Army divisions responsible for security in Iraq's nine southern provinces.

In Iraq, and throughout the world, POLADs -- diplomats assigned to serve as advisors to U.S. military commanders in the United States and overseas -- have become a key element in forging “whole of government” solutions and approaches that combine diplomacy, development and defense in pursuing our nation's foreign and security goals. Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates have led the way in making all components of our government work better and smarter. This has been especially true in Iraq, where diplomats, aid workers, and advisors have been working closely with the U.S. military to accomplish a historic transition in our presence in and relationship with Iraq.

In Iraq's dynamic environment, “transition” was ever-present and multifaceted. The transition of responsibility for security to the Iraqi Security Forces was the most immediate priority for my U.S. military colleagues and a key step toward the U.S. goal of an enduring strategic partnership with a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq. As the military draws down, civilians -- diplomats, aid workers, and advisors -- are moving into a more prominent role to support Iraq as it moves forward.

I arrived in Basrah, Iraq, shortly before the June 30, 2009 milestone, which saw the Iraqi Army and Police assume responsibility for security in the cities from coalition forces. The transition gathered speed over the next 14 months, as nearly 100,000 U.S. service members returned home to their families, we closed or transferred hundreds of military installations throughout Iraq, and moved millions of pieces of equipment out of Iraq.

The magnitude of this extraordinary effort could be difficult to comprehend. I remember one military logistician telling me that during the spring and summer of 2010, when the redeployment was at its height, 1,000 trucks headed south out of Iraq every night. I could see the convoys in the marshaling yards of our bases, and I could see their impact on my home base, Contingency Operating Base (COB) Basrah: the lines in the crowded dining facilities became shorter, large portions of the base became deserted, and the small shops frequented by soldiers began closing their doors.

Meanwhile, changes on base were occurring simultaneously as we were working to transform our “foxhole” into a fully functioning U.S. consulate, which would become one of the cornerstones of U.S. provincial engagement in southern Iraq. The leaders and soldiers of U.S. Division-South -- working hand-in-hand with the Basrah Provincial Reconstruction Team, Embassy Baghdad, and the Washington agencies -- undertook this new mission with unparalleled energy and commitment, drawn from a recognition that the hard-won security gains would only translate into a viable partnership with Iraq if the U.S. diplomats could do their jobs safely and effectively in 2012 and beyond.

Soldiers worked around the clock preparing the Consulate's office space, building the future Consulate's perimeter fence, upgrading air hub facilities, clearing areas designated for the Consulate staff's housing, and working with the Regional Security Office on security and movement plans. The transfer of knowledge and relationships was another key aspect of this military-civilian transition.

Even in a line of work that can take one to all corners of the world, my experiences working closely with the men and women of our armed services in a warzone made my POLAD assignment unlike any other in the State Department. Helping to advance the successful military-civilian partnership was one of the most rewarding aspects of my POLAD assignment. That partnership will remain critical, as we complete the military-civilian transition in Iraq this year and as we continue to strengthen our strategic relationship with Iraq.



paul r.
Connecticut, USA
February 28, 2011

Paul N. in Connecticut writes:

What happened to the creed 'millions for defense but not a thin dime for tyranny'? Please excuse my spelling,any vitriol I use believe is justified. Four dead in Somalia. Here's how to proceed. Leaflet population of Somalia from air. Tell the people to rise up against the pirates. Station USS New Jersey off coast.Plus one aircraft carrier.If piracy does not cease IMMEDIATELY,open fire on populace. Believe 16 inch guns should be adequate. If not, launch planes. Responsibility to end piracy is in hands of Somalian people. We ie; USA have every right to act in belligerant fashion. Next,let it be known to the WHOLE WORLD that NO country will hold us hostage in any shape,manner or form. If you fail to do as i suggest,I see little hope for this great country. I propose a sports analogy. The Cy Young award is given at the END of the baseball season for good reason. Tell Mr. Obama to return the Nobel. I can't run this country. This country cannot expediantly enough meet energy needs be they nuclear,coal or oil. Commence the draft. Truely unfortunate but necessary and will solidify our will.Any questions? Feel free to contact me.

Kansas, USA
May 17, 2011

JTF in Kansas writes:

I am glad to hear that you a positive experience while serving as POLAD. I was serving in Dhi-Qar Province during your time in Southern Iraq. We were assisting the Iraqi Army improve its capability as they took over responsibility for security. As a member of the Armed Forces, I have wondered how we could better integrate the capabilities of our sister departments into our formations earlier and at lower levels. Let me frame these comments by saying that I have always served at the battalion level or lower and have a limited knowledge of the expert advice POLADs (and other civilians) provide to our senior leaders. Additionally, I understand the security situation must be at a level that will allow our civilian counterparts to operate. At the tactical level, I believe that we both could benefit greatly if we develop a relationship prior to deployments. A possible solution would be for diplomats to serve within divisions or brigades while a home station. Also, military officers and NCOs (not Foreign Service Officers, just regular guys) could serve within the Department of State (and other agencies) and be rated by these civilians. I believe the knowledge we would gain from learning and understanding each other’s culture would pay off huge dividends when we are asked to serve together. How would you feel like serving and living with the military while stateside? I know that may not be attractive to a diplomat’s career and vice versa for a military officer or NCO. However, I think we have to change significantly to better sync our efforts to reach our strategic goals. Thank you for your service.


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