Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Muthanna PRT under Iraqi control

14 May 2007
By Sgt. Chris Keller
U.S. Centcom Public Affairs

ALI AIR BASE, Iraq - For the citizens in Muthanna Province, living in a secure province that has a government to supporting them and their basic needs is all they’ve ever wanted.

Provincial Iraqi Control (PIC) of Muthanna was passed to the Iraqi government in July of 2006 and has been assisted by the Muthanna Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) since September.

Muthanna became the first Iraqi province to take the lead on governing its own province. This step allowed the provincial police and Iraqi Army to be the first responders’ to any crisis in the province. However, the PRT still helps the government in taking further steps to helping its people.

Phillip Egger, Muthanna team leader, has been with his five man crew since February. Egger says he knows that having a focus is essential to being successful in Muthanna.

“Our focus here is on expanding an existing government rather then building something from nothing. The more confidence the Iraqi people have in their government the more secure the province is going to be. If the people know where their money is being spent and know that it is coming from a central government in an effective manner, helps to promote a way forward for a province. The PRT can draw all of these different unrelated activities into a common thread.”

The PRT mission can be divided into two aspects. On one hand you have the “Brick and Mortor” aspect. This involves working with locals to build schools, roads and wells. While on the other hand, each team gathers experts in the fields of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Commerce, Justice and Transportation to assist as liaisons to the local government.

Egger stresses that the PRT is not here to take control of the province, but to assist the people in setting up a governing body that can support its people.

“Our role is to over see a providence that is already governing itself. Their government is carrying out its day to day operations with little to no assistance. Our primary function is to move Muthana forward to enhance its day to day operations,” adds Egger.

Duty Team Leader Wade Weens has served on active duty with the Marines for seven years as a Civil Affairs Officer and brings his Civil Affairs expertise to the team. Wade says the process of rebuilding a country that has been run by a centralized government for centuries is some what of a challenge but it also has its rewards.

“Working in Iraq is full of challenges. It is just a challenge to move in and out of Muthanna to meet with officials. We could do more if we were able to travel more. However, we have made significant strides,” said Weens.

By the middle of June, Muthana province will have published its provincial budget followed by a provincial development strategy. This is a sector by sector plan on where the province plans to go in the next few years and what they need to accomplish to serve the needs of their people over the next three years. Muthanna is the second province in Iraq to accomplish this goal.

That goal, along with capacity development, will allow the government to support its people and their needs

“We encourage the governance to take steps to good governance practice. The essential building blocks for a good governance is the ability to plan, the ability to identify the needs of your citizens and then be able to develop a path from where you are and where you need to go. That is the process that we encourage the provincial governance to take,” adds Weens.

The PRT also encourages the publication of a budget so that all can know the allocation of the provincial money. The province is then rewarded for completing certain steps in the reconstruction process.

“We are something of an investor,” continued Weens. “We ask the government to implement certain basic reforms and publish a budget and the basic fundamental building blocks of governance. We then reward them by funding projects to help them rebuild. We involve Iraqis at every step. It has to be an Iraqi identified need and there should be Iraqi involvement at every step so the Iraqis feel invested in all we do.”

Although the PRT program falls under the Department of State for funding, it relies on the joint efforts of coalition forces to reach its ultimate goal of leaving a province that can support itself and its people, but the concept of working with coalition forces is unique to the Southern edge of Iraq.

“They (Australians) have “over watch” of the territory. They provide us our secure transportation in and out of the province, but more then that, they have been here for several years and they know the leadership of the province. Our coalition partners have worked with the Muthana province for a long time. We rely on them for their expertise advice about the province. We draw on their knowledge and they draw on our knowledge…It is very much a team effort,” said Weens.

As the governance take these steps, they become effective at taking care of their own people and providing for their own needs and that brings them one step closer to governing themselves.

The PRT and its coalition partners will continue their dedicated work to ensure that the people of Muthanna province are able to support and secure themselves for generations to come.

Egger adds that Provincial Iraqi Control is not an end state, but a starting point. It is a point of departure. “Our primary objective is to move Muthanna forward into its future. That is our mission.”

Photo: Australian and American Soldiers have tea with local Iraqis while on mission May 3. Muthanna's PRT conducted a on site visit and assenstment of a bridge project funded by the Australians. The teams’ thirteen approved projects for 2007 total $8.8 million. These projects include infrastructure, essential services and communications projects. Photo by Sgt Chris Keller.

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