By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
Aug. 31, 2007 - Iraqi citizens are steadily rebuilding their lives with help from U.S. provincial reconstruction teams, a team leader said from Mosul, Iraq, yesterday. "Mosul is very well known as sort of a merchant city with a very active retail and wholesale sector," Jason Hyland told online journalists and "bloggers" during a conference call from Iraq's Ninewah province, about 250 miles north of Baghdad. "I think that the natural drive to do business already exists here."
Hyland's provincial reconstruction team, or PRT, was the first to be established in Iraq. Each team is tasked with establishing ties with local Iraqi leaders and advising them on building prosperous, peaceful communities. Dozens of PRTs are located throughout the country and assist citizens by providing anything from security to "microloans" or grants to start small businesses.
"If you kind of listed the kinds of things that we're doing every day and who we're going out to meet and where we're traveling and our activities, it would sound a lot like what a consulate or an embassy would be doing in many places in the world," Hyland said.
The recent surge of U.S. troops into Iraq seems to have improved security where his team members operate, Hyland said. "We're getting out every day and going all over the province and conducting business and meeting people, and our outreach to people is expanding all the time," he said. "If you look at the security situation in that sense, I think it's improving."
Transforming businesses that were state-run under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship into private enterprises is a major focus of Hyland's team, as is forming a chamber of commerce and an agriculture cooperative. "We are now developing a concept to get a farmers association pilot (program) going, hoping to replicate that in other parts of Ninewah and hopefully ultimately in the rest of Iraq," Hyland said, "because the basis is there for a pretty successful agricultural economy."
Hyland's team also has been working closely with members of Ninewah province's judicial system. "We do a lot of training," he said. "We've strengthened their crime lab, their capacity in forensics. ... The central court in Baghdad has been sending basically traveling judges up here to try terrorism cases, and that's been very successful."
The ultimate goal of PRTs, according to Hyland, is to empower Iraqi citizens. "What we want is for the Iraqis to keep developing their capacity so that our role, frankly, becomes smaller and smaller," he said. "And I think our idea is to put ourselves out of a job."
(David Mays works at the Pentagon Channel.)