October 31, 2006
Audit Faults US Training Of Iraqis
Security woes hinder work in provinces
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
WASHINGTON -- Deteriorating security in Iraq and bureaucratic wrangling between the State Department and the Pentagon have undermined the US government's effort to train provincial governments, according to a report to Congress released yesterday by the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.
The training, done by "provincial reconstruction teams" of soldiers, aid workers, and diplomats, is meant to coach local authorities in Iraq on how to deliver basic services to their municipalities, and to take over duties from the US-led coalition, such as running elections and making decisions over local budgets.
The teams were considered such a critical part of the Bush administration's strategy to build up the new Iraqi government that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presided over the inauguration of the first team in Mosul last November.
But disagreements over which branch of the US government would fund and protect the teams, along with threats and attacks on personnel, have greatly hindered the effort.
Now, a year later, only four provinces out of 13 examined by the special inspector general's office had US personnel that were "generally able" to carry out their missions, according to a detailed audit on the teams released by the inspector general on Sunday. Teams helping nine other provincial governments reported varying degrees of success, from "somewhat able" to "generally unable" to fulfill their missions.
In Anbar and Basra provinces -- the two teams deemed "generally unable" to fulfill their mission -- team members do not interact personally with their Iraqi counterparts because of the risk of violence, seriously hindering their mission of mentoring and skill -building.
That was also the case of the provincial offices in Karbala, Qadisiyah, and Wasit, according to the audit, which recommended that the State Department stop deploying personnel to those areas.
In other provinces, e-mails and cellphone calls substitute for regular face-to-face contact between the American mentors and Iraqi local officials.
A written response from the State Department's Near Eastern Affairs Bureau said the audit did not reflect the "significant progress" that had been made by the teams, and said their presence in dangerous provinces "outweighs the risks."
The inspector's office said the State Department had difficulty finding foreign service officers willing to join the teams, filling just 60 percent of the civilian positions. The teams also lacked consistent funding, the audit said. The State Department requested $400 million in supplemental funding for the teams, but a congressional subcommittee recommended that funds be reduced to $300 million and that disbursement be withheld until the State Department filed updates on the teams' progress. Those updates were submitted last week.
The audit said the State Department and the Department of Defense have argued over who is responsible for the security of the teams and who should pay the bill for the programs, noting that the two branches of government still have not come to an agreement on how to work together.
The audit, which praised the cooperation and dedication of individuals in the field, represents the most comprehensive look at the provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq. It was one of several audits released over the weekend.
The inspector general yesterday also submitted its quarterly report to Congress summarizing progress in the reconstruction effort and ongoing challenges in Iraq.
Much of the update to Congress centered on the need to build the capacity of Iraq's central government to take over the multibillion-dollar US-led reconstruction effort.
The audit on reconstruction teams also noted that local governance in most of Iraq's 18 provinces has historically been weak since Iraq was run by a strong central government in Baghdad during Saddam Hussein's rule.
To address the problem, US officials decided to deploy teams of diplomats and "governance" trainers from the Research Triangle Institute, a private contractor that works with USAID, who would be embedded with the US military.
The idea to establish the teams came from Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to Iraq, who had seen the approach implemented with some success in Afghanistan when he served as ambassador there.
Even in Afghanistan, the State Department and the Pentagon clashed over the details of the partnership, according to James Dobbins , who served as a special envoy to Afghanistan at the time and is now director for national security and defense policy at the Rand Corp.
Dobbins said it took about 18 months to establish the provincial teams in Afghanistan after the initial 2002 agreement to do so because of bureaucratic wrangling over "who pays for their food, their transportation, who pays for the military convoy, and whose career is ruined if someone gets killed."
Iraq posed even greater obstacles. In Afghanistan, the teams are overwhelmingly military, with just two or three civilians in a team of 80 soldiers.
But in Iraq, they are led by foreign service officers who have sought protection from the military, only to be rebuffed.
Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sparred for months over who would provide security for the teams, with Rice insisting that it was the military's job, but Rumsfeld insisting that private security do it because the US military is already overstretched.
In April -- five months after Rice's inauguration of the first team in Mosul -- the State Department announced that the military had agreed to guard the teams.
Another major obstacle was solved in July when the State Department agreed to reimburse the Pentagon $2.6 million for team expenses in 2006.
"The lack of an overall memorandum of agreement had serious ramifications," the audit said. "The lines of authority and coordination between the US Embassy and military components were never spelled out and agreed upon."