By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 27, 2007 - The U.S. provincial reconstruction team in Iraq's Diyala province is working to connect provincial leaders with Iraq's central government and foster reconciliation in an area where security is still challenging, the team's leader said today. The PRT, which was established in April 2006, includes about 46 military and civilian members from various government agencies who work directly with the provincial government, John Melvin Jones said during a conference call with online journalists and "bloggers." The team's biggest challenge right now is getting enough involvement in Diyala from other agencies, because the security situation isn't stable, he said.
"Everything is based around security; if we have security, then we can bring in agencies like (the United States Agency for International Development)," he said. "It's going to take a while before the security situation gets stable enough so that you can even have all these other agencies involved."
Jones was in Baghdad today with the Diyala provincial governor and governors from three other northern provinces to meet with Iraq's deputy prime minister about the problems in Iraq's north. The key issue that needs to be worked out is a disconnection between the central government and provincial governments when it comes to getting funding for reconstruction, Jones said.
"The central government understands that it's going to make promises and so forth; the guys at the provincial level are waiting for action," he said. "We see our role here as facilitating the contact, making sure that when the deputy prime minister says he's going to give a certain amount of money to the province to rebuild houses, that there's ... a way the province governor can get access to that money."
Access to fuel and electricity remain a problem in Diyala, Jones said, and many employers are not hiring new workers because of the security situation. However, in the past month and a half, there has been a rebirth of commerce in Baqubah, the provincial capital. Because of the intense combat operations in the Diyala River Valley, shops and markets have been able to open in Baqubah and people venture into the streets, he said.
The important thing to understand about northern Iraq is that sectarian and tribal divisions have been in place for thousands of years, Jones said. The PRT is working to get reconciliation among these groups, he said, but it is not something that will be achieved overnight.
"Our problem here is to try to get them to understand that they can work together for the good of the entire province," Jones said. "It's something that's been going on for thousands of years out here, and we need to change the mindset of those persons involved."