US civilians drive Iraq's other surge
Teams of US experts in law and management are trying to develop governance by the rule of law in northern Iraq.
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A key objective of a civilian reconstruction team is to develop modern local governance while breaking local leaders of a dependence on US forces. The goal has become a critical part of the PRT mission – particularly as a growing chorus of experts faults the American presence in Iraq for perpetuating dependence on the US on the part of the Iraq's national leaders.Skip to next paragraph
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Some critics say the Iraqi government uses the US presence as a crutch for avoiding necessary action rather than as a support for making its own difficult decisions possible.
"What we have uppermost in our mind, no matter what the issue or project may be, is to empower the Iraqis to where they don't look to me or a colonel or any of the experts as the provider or the source of the answer," says Howard Keegan, who heads up the Kirkuk PRT. "We want to break them from reliance on an occupying force that goes away."
DON'T IMPOSE US SOLUTIONS
Indeed, the packet for a PRT-assisted waste-management project in Kirkuk contains this quote from the Arab Bulletin articles of T.E. Lawrence: "Do not try to do too much with your own hands…. It may take them longer and it may not be as good as you think, but if it is theirs, it will be better."
That means the PRTs should avoid imposing solutions even when experts may think they have the answer.
In Kirkuk, for example, the provincial council has labored under a boycott by the council's Arab and Turkmen members since last fall, when they decided that the council's Kurdish members were conducting business to their exclusion. PRT advisers have nudged the council toward resolution of the standoff and have succeeded in convincing some members to return to council meetings, but they have not imposed a solution.
The Kirkuk PRT is expecting to add new experts, notably in agronomy and oil infrastructure, to help with the area's principal economic engines.
The PRTs are generally not involved in large infrastructure projects, so they have avoided being implicated in the cases of deterioration and breakdown of many infrastructure projects the US built and then turned over to the Iraqis.
But that does not mean they have been exempt from criticism. A recent report by the congressionally funded US Institute for Peace in Washington found that some of the reservists brought in to PRTs until their civilian replacements could be assigned have found themselves in over their heads. The report noted the case, for example, of one reservist, a high school teacher in civilian life, assigned to develop an entire local school board.
Kirkuk PRT team leader Mr. Keegan says the cases of deteriorating US-built infrastructure in Iraq only underscore the primary need for skills development if the reconstruction effort is going to develop roots. "All we're doing is building buildings if we don't develop the people to support the operations, he says. "And we all know that left unattended, buildings and other physical structures tend to fall apart."
LEARNING HOW TO SUSTAIN DEVELOPMENT
The Kirkuk area has had some of those problems, he says. For example, water projects in the initial phase of reconstruction were simply turned over to village leaders without instruction on how to maintain them.
"In some cases, it wasn't long before they stopped functioning," he says. "We're getting better at providing the know-how to keep this stuff running."
The fine line the Kirkuk PRT is walking now is providing the training and guidance the Iraqis need in fields ranging from oil to agriculture, without increasing their dependence.
"Part of what we are doing is breaking local groups of their tendency to turn to the US for a solution or as a presence to hide behind," says Andrew Veprak, a political expert with the Kirkuk PRT. "When we get them to the point of writing their own budgets and running their services, and all working together without a thought for us, then we've done our job."