Sunday, January 15, 2006

Rice's Rebuilding Plan Hits Snags

Pentagon and Foggy Bottom Debate Funding, Staffing of Teams
By Glenn Kessler and Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 15, 2006; A24

On Nov. 11, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unannounced trip into Mosul, Iraq, to grandly inaugurate a new concept for rebuilding the country that she said "will marry our economic, military, and political people in teams to help these local and provincial governments get the job done."

The idea centered on establishing Provincial Reconstruction Teams, or PRTs, a tactic promoted in Iraq by the new U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, who had built similar operations when he was ambassador to Afghanistan. He declared in November that extending a coordinated U.S. presence into the provinces was "a new addition to our strategy for success in Iraq."

Three teams were rapidly established in Mosul, Kirkuk and Hilla, largely because the functional equivalent of consulates -- known in Iraq as regional embassy offices -- were simply relabeled PRTs. But the rollout of the rest of the plan appears uncertain as State and Defense Department officials haggle over a series of tough questions, including how to fund them, how to staff them, how to provide security -- and even whether they help or hinder plans to reduce the U.S. troop presence.

Under the original timetable, 16 PRTs were to have been established by this summer. That would mean one in each of Iraq's 18 provinces, except for the three northern Kurdish provinces, which would share a single regional PRT.

Officials involved in the debate in Baghdad and Washington insisted in interviews that broad agreement remains on using the teams to coordinate U.S. aid and to bolster Iraq's provincial governments, which were given little authority under the highly centralized rule of ousted president Saddam Hussein. The idea is to staff the teams with political, development, legal and civil military specialists who can help advise local officials. Counting security guards, the teams could number as many as 100 people in each location.

"Once we make the key decisions in Washington in the next weeks, we will find a way to move forward on this important project," said Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, Rice's senior adviser on Iraq policy.

Other officials said, however, that the PRTs have become caught in a crossfire of different priorities. Rice and her aides have felt strongly that civilian officials need to pay greater attention to the provinces, a view that is seconded by military officials in those areas. Establishing the PRTs thus would be part of a counterinsurgency campaign, State Department officials said.

At the same time, the Pentagon is eager to reduce its military footprint in Iraq, making officials wary of a project that could require the deployment of troops on yet another new mission when they are trying to reduce the visibility of U.S. forces and turn over more areas to the Iraqis.

"We don't, at the same time we're doing that, want to be establishing mini-Green Zones in the provincial capitals," said a defense official, referring to the giant, heavily protected headquarters in Baghdad for U.S. government and contracting activities.

Although State Department officials can rattle off specifics about the numbers and types of specialists expected to constitute future PRTs, defense officials said the makeup of the units remains open to question. Two Pentagon officials suggested that each PRT might need to be tailored to its particular province and not every province might warrant one.

"What we haven't been able to do is settle on a single model," one Pentagon official said.

One key concern, according to a senior military officer, is whether State can "come up with the right numbers of qualified and experienced folks to source the remaining teams." But State Department officials expressed confidence that staffing will not be a problem, saying Rice has made it a priority.

Who will pay what for the teams and their facilities also is unresolved, officials said, with State looking to Defense to pick up much of the bill while Defense Department officials portray the PRTs essentially as a State Department activity.

Initially, the PRTs will work with a pot of $150 million in State Department funds, or about $10 million per team to fund aid activities, though some of that has been spent. State Department officials also want to better coordinate the spending of emergency relief funds held by military commanders, also about $10 million per province.

Another tough issue is whether to use the military or contractors to provide protection. State officials would prefer to use troops to ensure security, arguing that contractors are expensive. Besides, they say, the teams are intended as civilian-military efforts, each headed by a civilian with a military colonel as deputy.

Embassy regional offices in the past have been protected by private contractors. Embassy representatives who have worked with provincial authorities have tended to keep the timing of their visits unpredictable and episodic for security reasons. Under the PRT concept, such contacts are expected to increase, as will the risks.

But with the Pentagon eager to draw down forces in Iraq, defense officials are reluctant to take on new or expanded assignments, particularly those seen by some as having more to do with reconstruction than combating terrorism.

"We're very much in the watch-and-wait mode right now," said a senior military officer at the Pentagon. "Secretary [Donald H.] Rumsfeld has spoken of the importance of not stepping too far forward in the area of reconstruction just yet."

Officials with both the embassy and U.S. military command in Iraq are expected to produce a formal assessment later this month of the initial performance of the first three PRTs. After that, Khalilzad and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, will make recommendations to Washington on how to proceed, officials said.

One State Department official predicted that once local commanders see the value of the PRTs, they will be willing to provide security and resolve other problems. But, he conceded, "decisions [in Washington] could slow or detour or modify the basic concept."

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