By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
April 2, 2009 - A transition team is helping Iraq's Interior Ministry move toward a secure and democratic state -- one technological hurdle at a time, a senior advisor said. "I have seen a lot of progress in the past 14 months that, from a person looking [in from] the outside may not appreciate as being a significant gain, but the people that are left here in Iraq, they possess the ability to withstand 30 years of the former regime," Army Col. Roy Gray, director for the Finance and Contracting Directorate, Ministry of Interior Transitional Team, told online journalists and bloggers during a "DoDLive" bloggers roundtable March 30.
"And, they have succeeded in keeping themselves alive and keeping their jobs and doing what they need to do to move Iraq forward," he added.
Gray described Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq's efforts to assist the Interior Ministry in developing and maintaining financial systems and processes.
One technological hurdle the command is helping the ministry tackle is moving Iraq away from a cash-accounting system that requires all funding to be completed by the end of the calendar year. "It limits some of the things they can do for long-term projects," Gray noted.
The command also is helping the ministry to modernize its financial system by pointing out ways to update its computer processes.
"They're still about 20 to 25 years behind what we would consider a modern organization," Gray said. "We have introduced them to a lot of computer processes, and in the short time that they have been working with these, they've been trying to sort out what they want to use going forward in the future."
But maintaining and using computer services can be difficult without electricity to operate them. Last year, due to the country's spotty electrical service, blackouts that would last from a few hours to four or five days were common, Gray said.
"Fuel would not be delivered to the backup generators. And, so they have several mainframes, legacy mainframes, that they [would] try to use, and they just could not maintain them with the lack of electricity," Gray said.
As they work to overcome challenges, Gray said transitional team members will continue to focus on modernization efforts, such as transferring Iraq's paper-based system to a centralized data system, which Gray believes could happen in less than two years.
"All their orders have to come written. All [of] the responses are written," Gray said. They still like to see a lot of signatures, a lot of stamps. They're still somewhat reluctant to have authority pushed down to the level it probably should be.
"The leaders that understand where they're going in the future are trying to be dynamic enough and forceful enough to make the system work without having to rely on everything going all the way up the chain of command for approval," he said.
Gray said he believes the Interior Ministry will be the driving force to push Iraq into adopting future technological advancements.
"We look at small steps as being very important. And, [Iraqis] are taking ownership in a lot of areas, and they are not looking at the coalition first for answers anymore. They're looking internally, and now they are being proactive," Gray said.
"The strategic planning that we've put them through ... now [they] start to understand that they have to take responsibility for what the future holds, and they need to plan for it accordingly."
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the Defense Media Activity's Emerging Media directorate.)