In Memoriam

This site is also dedicated to Stan Sargent. Stan and I grew up in Grenada, Mississippi, and both of us left for college at about the same time. Stan served in Vietnam while I joined the Peace Corps. Stan won the Silver Star for heroism. Read Stan's story (1 MB download pdf).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

My Experience in Iraq

I was recently asked to summarize "best practices" from my experience in Iraq as a USAID Representative on an Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team. The following are the four points that I believe are key in developing an effective counterinsurgency economic development program. These points were first made in a presentation I gave to General David Petraeus in July 2008 at Forward Operating Base Kalsu.

Bring Our Partners Into the Fight - This entails understanding the array (USAID (US Agency for International Development), QRF (Quick Response Funding), CERP (Commander Emergency Response Program), Other Donor, etc.) of economic development programs that are available, determining how the programs "work" and what are the rules to partner with them, and figuring out who makes decisions on investments and then get those people out to the field (this is where you have to make sure the military understands that air support to get the right people out is the best investment they can make in economic development COIN).

Leverage Development Resources for Greater Impact - The objective is to have our partners "own" their part of the fight. Mandating investments from other economic development programs does not work. You have to engage them, understand what their objectives are, and then give them a framework where they can achieve their objectives while supporting your COIN objectives. I found that a lot of the programming decisions being made were based more on relationships than on a strategic planning framework. People want to help, you have to show them how they can, and in a way that fits their program. You have to always look for synergy - win/win scenarios - and you have to champion the ideas when you find them. You can't wait for the partners to show up -- you have to create a concept, market it to the partners, get them out to look at specific parts of what you want to do, and then have them come up with a shared concept in the field - a way forward that everyone is bought in. I have a case study for what we did with aquaculture in North Babil that I could share. Al Qaeda of Mesopotamia had destroyed the industry, occupied fish farms, and shut down most of the production. The US military went in and cleared them out and we went in with an economic development program that involved everyone of our partners and funding from across the spectrum (USAID, QRF, CERP, etc.). The end result was the revitalization of an industry that will produce by 2010 up to 130,000 metric tons of fish and increase gross revenue to farmers and merchants by at least $30 million.

Focus on Iraqi Buy-in & Ownership - Getting local ownership is key to a sustainable efffort. My experience was you were only really able to meet consistently with the local leaders. It was harder to talk with ordinary people. It could happen but it was the exception not the rule. You had to count on them to bring their people (tribe or community) into the discussion, It was very difficult to get local buy-in with the "grant them everything" mentality that comes with COIN but we sought Iraqi leadership of any program we funded. Whether it was a "radio in a box" station in Seddah City or a $2 million Central Euphrates Farmers' Market, you tried to structure the program where they (the Iraqis) were seen by the community as the leaders -- that way, if the program failed, the local leaders lost face but if it succeeded, they appeared more legitimate in the eyes of the community. We wanted the local leaders to have an incentive to make sure the program worked. We tried to build that into everything -- for example, a $200,000 backpack program being handed out by the local councils rather than being given out by the Civil Affairs Units (they could monitor the overall program but it was a locally managed event). This kind of effort takes a lot of work on the ground by the Provincial Reconstruction Team but it has a better chance of being sustained and it helped legitimize local authority. It is also our eventual exit strategy -- at the end of the day, the Iraqis have to assume full ownerhip of their own development efforts.

Use Military as Force Multiplier for Development Programs - Like everything on a Provincial Reconstruction Team, the effectiveness of working with the military came down to personal relationships. The key was to find the company commanders and their Civil Affairs teams that wanted to do something. When I first arrived at the Brigade, I set up a briefing schedule of the battalion senior staff, the civil affairs teams, and, specialized groups, like the Brigade surgeon and the medical team. I explained all the USAID programs, told them how QRF worked, and put out some ideas on how we work together to leverage impact. I told them that I saw my job as helping them restore hope in the communities that were stabilized through economic development programs, employment programs, or whatever their interaction with the community indicated was the highest priority. I then invited anyone to come see me with their idea for an activity. I put a list of already approved Iraqi Rapid Assistance Projects (IRAP) projects on the wall of my office to show as examples of what could be done. We were able to get some really good ideas for activities from Company commanders and their CA teams. Basically, I was not designing and implementing a program that was coordinated with the Brigade, I was there to help them achieve their stabilization and COIN objectives by putting quick disbursing economic and employment generation programs in place where it was important to the overall mission. The goal was to reduce the violence within the communities and against our soldiers by restoring hope.