Behind the Scenes, American Involvement in Iraq is Still Significant-Special to Hawaii Reporter

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    In a western Mosul neighborhood, a half-dozen men gather to watch as an excavator scoops up black sludge-like waste punctuated with colorful plastic bags from a large lot, and drops it into a dump-truck. The garbage man is here for the first time in two weeks, and the men watching say that trash-removal service is going well.

    Although reluctant to say that service is improving, they say the dump truck which arrives every one or two weeks is adequate, and they look forward to receiving trash bins. A little further down the street, soldiers from the 2nd Brigade 3rd Infantry Division (2nd BCT 3rd ID), hand out candy to a crowd of children and try to teach the kids to throw their wrappers in a trash can–and not into the street.


    “James Johnson Sewage 2 Centered”

    The 2nd BCT 3rd ID and a group of Iraqi police officers provide security for a team of civil affairs officers working with the Hawaii-based 130th Engineer Brigade. The team has taken a role as eyes and ears for key personnel in Iraq’s provincial and national governments.

    Along with visits to U.S. funded reconstruction projects, they stop at businesses which have no official U.S. involvement. The patrols cover almost every aspect of Iraqi life that the government is expected to provide, including sewage, water, health care, elections, education, and basic infrastructure.

    “James Johnson Sewage Centered”

    “We’re basically trying to get a feel for the city,” said Staff Sgt. Mitko Dintcheff, a civil affairs officer. “We use these [patrols] as an opportunity to get on the ground and take a look at the atmospherics, the condition of the neighborhood, and opinions of the population.”

    The Army civil affairs officers are part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), headed by the Department of State (DoS) and includes the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

    For the PRT, spending money is a large part of diplomatic efforts in Iraq. Their goal is to secure funding for infrastructure projects in an attempt to create a balanced society. The PRT sees this as a strategic process seeking to help improve as many factions of Iraqi society–even those which don’t ask for help.

    For example, if the PRT wants to help a Christian or other minority community, it is their practice to also offer improvement projects to surrounding communities. Otherwise, they have learned, resentment is fueled when only one group or area receives aid. That resentment can quickly turn to violence.

    Another lesson learned is that some groups have become expert at packaging aid requests. The PRT tries to level the playing field by offering assistance to less experienced groups to help them through the bureaucratic process.

    To get a project done, local communities can request funding from the Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP) which is issued by U.S. Army commanders in conjunction with the PRT. However, that budget is shrinking, and the PRT has the challenge of educating the Iraqi government to use their own money more wisely.

    The Nineweh PRT meets regularly with director generals in the area who are responsible for various community needs such as water or education. These officials report to the Iraq’s national government. The PRT also meets with a representative for Nineweh Provincial Governor Atheel Najafi.

    “The [PRT] feels that because the largest line item on your budget is for roads and bridges, they don’t want to fund roads and bridges,” said Lt. Col. Mary Prophit at meeting between the PRT and Najafi’s representative (who asked not to be identified or photographed for security reasons). The line item refers to the Regional Development Budget which is awarded from the national Iraqi government in Baghdad.

    “What do you mean, we have a large amount of money for roads and bridges?” the representative responded, seemingly frustrated that the $500,000 request has been denied.

    At that point, PRT official Brian Jalbert explained about U.S. budget constraints. “We’re going to have to say no to you much more often than we used to,” he said.

    The remainder of the meeting is a discussion of budgeting priorities. Members of the PRT say they need a list of the provincial governor’s reconstruction priorities, while the representative insists that they have provided them. The discussion reveals challenges in communicating with the Iraqi government which is used to different budgeting and planning methods. The challenges are compounded when Army and other PRT officials move in and out of Iraq on one-year rotations and make repeat requests to the Iraqi leaders who remain.

    Another job of the PRT is to help the Iraqi government enforce contracts it has awarded.

    Between stops to local schools which are to be used as polling sites, the patrol turns onto a muddy dirt road. Pools of stagnant water are green with algae, and a woman is seen throwing two large bags of trash onto a large pile of garbage in the center. A makeshift bridge of cinder blocks is the only way to cross without sinking ankle-deep into the muck. A man calls after the American soldiers and airs his complaints.

    He tells Civil Affairs Officer Lt. Nathan Neuman that the neighborhood has been waiting several years for something to be done about the road. Multiple contracts have been awarded by the Iraqi government to clean up and pave the road, but each has taken the money and done nothing. Soon, four other men join the discussion. During heavy rains, they say, the road is impossible to cross.

    The road is in bad enough shape that the civil affairs team will flag it as a priority. They will work through the PRT to pressure the local government to take action. However, Iraqi funded projects are not enforced or monitored as closely as American funded projects and the men on the street remain skeptical.

    As Neuman turns to leave, one man says to him, “Anybody who can finish this road as promised will get my vote for president of Iraq…even if that’s you.”

    ‘Photos and report by James Johnson, a Hawaii Reporter journalist embedded in Iraq. Reach him at’