By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
March 16, 2009 - As security continues to improve in Iraq, civil affairs units and provincial reconstruction teams become more effective, the commander of the Army reserve's 304th Civil Affairs Brigade said today. In a telephone interview from Baghdad, Army Col. Daniel R. Ammerman said the improved security situation allows civil affairs personnel to do more to improve governance and economic life in the country.
And as U.S. combat units redeploy from Iraq, he said, the work civil affairs personnel do will be critical in ensuring progress continues.
The 304th, from Philadelphia, is composed of about 100 soldiers and sailors from throughout the northeastern United States. The unit is an enabler for improving governance and the economy in the country.
"We focus mostly on building government of Iraq civil capacity – enabling the government to meet those essential service needs of the people as well as economic growth to provide jobs," Ammerman said.
Building governance is an amorphous concept. Ammerman takes it to its foundation.
"It's what people expect from their government to meet their needs," he said. "It's putting in place essential services, it's putting in place an economic environment so people can work, and it's putting in place the infrastructure needed for businesses to flourish."
From a practical standpoint, it is developing the infrastructure so the government can clean streets, maintain the sewers, and build water purification plants and the piping to get the water to homes. It's building the generating plants and the distribution network to get electricity to homes and businesses.
Ammerman said it is about more than just building these facilities for the Iraqis. It also is about helping the Iraqis set up the process by which a government – local, provincial or national – can build and maintain these services.
"The provincial reconstruction teams have the lead in working with city councils and provincial councils to put these in place," Ammerman said. This entails working on budgeting, raising money, preventing corruption and ensuring the rule of law is followed, he said.
The unit works with interagency partners and with Iraqi entities. The civil affairs teams are partners at the PRTs, Ammerman said. "They basically come up with a joint plan on how they are going to address the civil capacity in the province," he said.
One size does not fit all, and there are differences throughout Iraq. For example, the colonel said, Ninevah and Diyala provinces are less permissive for civil affairs than other areas in the country.
"The more security you have, the faster you can develop your civil capacity," he said. "We're still able to work in difficult provinces, but the pace will not be as fast. It's more time-consuming and costly in less secure areas."
Civil affairs units are working with nongovernmental agencies, too. "There was recently an NGO conference in downtown Baghdad, ... and there were in the neighborhood of 100 NGOs, and they had a chance to talk with each other, the Iraqi government, coalition and the United Nations," Ammerman said.
Even after the U.S. combat units redeploy, the need for civil affairs units in Iraq will continue, Ammerman said.
"We will draw down, but probably not at the same rate as for maneuver units," he said. "The need here will also decrease, because as there is more security, the government of Iraq's ability will grow, too. You will see exponential increases in the economic activity as the security situation improves."
Private companies also are investing in Iraq, primarily in transportation and agriculture. The projects include facilities at the Baghdad International Airport, office buildings, trade shows and an oil expo.
The reserve unit is scheduled to leave in April. Ammerman said the reservists bring aspects of their civilian jobs with them into the military.
"We have a Navy officer at Basra who is from New Orleans and works at the port there," the colonel said. "He saw that the port in Basra was not being used, and saw opening it as a huge economic opportunity for the region. He's worked to open piers and the river channel. He had that expertise from his civilian job, and it has helped this country."
Ammerman thanked the families of those deployed and their employers for their sacrifices. "They have let their people serve the United States by serving as reservists in Iraq," he said.