One of the positive changes made during the Surge was to dramatically increase the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Iraq. Early attempts at reconstruction in Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) were characterized by huge, multi-million dollar projects without regard to security, cost, or the needs of Iraqis. The PRTs tried to reverse these trends by focusing upon small-scale projects that were coordinated with local Iraqis and government officials. The PRTs always struggled with staffing, coordination, and early on security was an overriding concern, which limited their ability to operate out in Iraq’s governorates, but there were eventually 14 teams and 10 Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams that worked alongside U.S. combat brigades.
Now that may be coming to an end. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill said he wants to reduce the number of PRTs down to six in the coming years, and have them replaced by Non-Government Organizations. A July 2009 report by the State Department’s Inspector General also suggested that the PRTs be terminated by 2011 to cut the department’s costs. These announcements are worrying PRT officials, some of whom are going back to old U.S. habits of funding large projects in an effort to spend all their money before they are closed down. Other team members are worried this will be a waste, and undermine the more successful grassroots work that the PRTs were known for.
Iraq relies in large part on U.S. reconstruction outlays because its own bureaucracy lacks the means and capacity to spend most of their own investment money. Putting an end to the PRTs, and pushing huge infrastructure projects as their last gasp could be the worst of both worlds. As U.S. commitment to Iraq’s development comes to a halt, the last vestiges of this effort may end up adding little to a country with such great needs.
Ackerman, Spencer, “As Troops Withdraw, Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Teams to Change Director Expects Phase-Out by 2011,” Washington Independent, 3/11/09
Flaherty, Anne, “Study: Reconstruction teams face funding, staffing troubles,” Associated Press, 4/17/08
Madhani, Aamer, “Envoy to Iraq has message of tough love,” USA Today, 7/21/09
Robson, Seth, “Iraq reconstruction funds may be squandered,” Stars and Stripes, 7/11/09
Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09
- “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Government,” 7/30/07
Strobel, Warren, “Report: Big cuts needed at huge Baghdad embassy that Bush built,” McClatchy Newspapers, 7/22/09