News: How to build a government: Embedded provincial reconstruction team and Human Terrain Team chart a roadmap for the future
Story by Sgt. David Turner
By Sgt. David Turner
4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division
FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq – At the Musayyib Governance Center in northern Babil province, the qada secretary, Jawad Abd al-Kadim Muhsim, greets his visitors, a mix of old and new friends. Among them is Maj. Steven Capehart, commander of Company C, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, someone Jawad has come to know well in the past year. "Ra'ad Steve," as he is known to the Iraqis, is preparing to redeploy his troops in the coming month, and his visit is to introduce some new players on the scene. With him are Maj. Richard Brown, the new civil affairs team leader, plus a group of civilians whose work will closely affect the qada council in the months to come.
One of them is Michael Bevers, governance adviser for the North Babil embedded provincial reconstruction team, which has been working with the 4th BCT for the past 14 months. Bevers, a former Marine with a degree in Middle Eastern studies, is here to learn more about how the Musayyib council works. While he asks questions, his two civilian counterparts take notes. They discuss the everyday problems facing a small, local government, such as housing codes, license fees and building permits. One Iraqi official, in charge of sanitation, complains that citizens often appeal to him directly to solve their problems instead of going through usual channels. Bevers identifies with his plight; a former deputy mayor in his hometown of Bedford, Ind., population 18,000, he understands their day-to-day struggles. He jokes that they sound just like American bureaucrats.
For Bevers, however, the trip is more than just a casual visit to discuss small-town government issues. As the North Babil ePRT prepares to reduce its size, and with fewer Soldiers tasked with assisting the local councils they helped build up, he is part of a team seeking to plot a new course for how the military interacts with local Iraqi governments.
A changing mission
The North Babil ePRT is a team of Soldiers and civilians, headed by a U.S. Department of State official, whose mission is to help rebuild the Iraqi economy and infrastructure, coordinating their efforts with Soldiers of the 4th BCT. As part of a counterinsurgency campaign that gained steam with last year's troop surge, the ePRT has focused much of its efforts into building capacity for local governments. That means empowering them to do the job the new Iraqi constitution has given them, as well as assisting them in a variety of projects ranging from repairing infrastructure to educating public officials in good governance. In some areas, Soldiers had to build local councils up from scratch, organizing sheikhs and former government officials into informal groups to get things done for their communities. Some are still not formally recognized by the provincial government.
"Twelve months ago, they didn't have councils," said Bevers, "or they had councils, but they didn't know how to meet, how to interact with their government – they didn't use agendas. A lot of that got done through Major Capehart's effort."
Soldiers of the 3-7th Inf. Regt. have invested themselves personally in the villages and towns of their area. As security has improved and the Baghdad government has reached out to the provinces, captains and platoon leaders have organized farmers, women's committees and other groups to make their voices heard. More often than not, they didn't have any strict rules to follow in building those organizations. Having spent little more than three months on the team, Bevers is still trying to figure out the complexities of how Iraqi government is supposed to work.
"After three months, I wish I had 12 more months to do it. You're just learning what you need to be doing after three months, getting the lay of the land," he said.
Bevers said he initially expected his work to be advising councils in the nuts-and-bolts of running a small-town democratic government like the ones he has known and studied. However, he said, "When I got here, it wasn't that at all. They are not at that capacity yet. Even now their capacity is just being ready to start accepting those skills."
Part of the reason, according to Capehart, is that while democracy has been in place since the 2005 elections, security is a more recent phenomenon. Now, as the political landscape is evolving with new elections in the coming months, and with a new Army unit soon moving into the area, Bevers said he hopes he can accelerate the learning curve.
"As we transition to the way forward, one of the things I would see the ePRT and governance people doing ... is helping military units understand more fully how Iraqi government works in the sub-Baghdad level, from the province all the way down to the nahia," he said.
"Building the plane as we fly"
Mark Dawson, a member of 4th BCT's Human Terrain Team, is an anthropologist by training. Some anthropologists believe that societies operate according to a "script." Understand the script and you will understand the people. In his work with the North Babil ePRT's governance team, Dawson said there are several scripts at work, some misunderstood and occasionally at odds with each other. Figuring out how the military works with Iraq's local governments means untangling and at times rewriting the script.
"We have the [counterinsurgency] field manual, which is the theory, and now everyone is trying to put it into practice ... it's all new for everyone," said Dawson, of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Soldiers have been involved in nearly all aspects of the lives of citizens here, from keeping the area safe and organizing the Sons of Iraq program to helping farmers buy fertilizer. When it came to building government structures from the ground up, said Dawson, they often relied on their creativity.
"One of the things we've gotten repeatedly from the commanders who have been doing this is they are all saying: 'I'm a tank commander,' or 'I'm an infantry guy, I was never trained to build a government.' Everyone is trying to figure out how do you build a government, how do you coordinate a government ... we're all trying to build the plane as we fly," he said.
Bevers pointed out that trying to understand Iraqi government isn't easy, either for Soldiers or even the Iraqi officials themselves. Not only do Iraqi citizens have little experience of democracy, but their new constitution is a sometimes confusing mixture of old and new.
"[Iraq] was a Soviet-style centralized government. All the decisions came from the center. All these structures, the muhafatha [province], the qada and the nahia were in place under Sadaam Hussein. But the sole purpose of these were for the Ministry of the Interior [which controls the Iraqi police] to have control over the population outside of Baghdad, so they were staffed with Baath Party officials and [MoI] officials who handled everything," said Bevers.
"Now you've got these central governance structures and they have tried to graft onto these federal, participatory councils, and there's been some struggle in making that work. They don't have any financial authority; they don't have any legislative authority. This being a centralized government has been a hindrance for people to try to become a decentralized, participatory government," he said.
Despite that, Bevers said, councils like the Musayyib qada have a good chance of making their government work. In talking to officials like Haider Thalbut, Musayyib's municipal manager, he sees people eager to take on the job, though they may not be sure yet of just how to accomplish each task within the existing framework.
"The thing that's impressed me is they have taken a lot of initiative. What I see when I go to a council meeting is I see people who want democracy, and I don't even think they fully understand what that means, they just know it's probably good," he said.
To help the Soldiers on the ground and the Babil PRT, who will be working with local governments in the future, the North Babil ePRT began a study to try and gather as much knowledge and insight from Soldiers and government officials as they could before the 4th BCT Soldiers redeploy. If they could use the various strategies employed by Soldiers as a guide to what works and what doesn't, they figured, they might be able to help those who follow them in their mission.
In one of the offices that surround the 4th BCT's headquarters at FOB Kalsu, Mark Dawson and his colleague Laurie Miller work on what looks like a room-sized collage of words. Ideas and quotes typed on paper are cut into strips and taped to paper-covered walls, with Post-it notes amid the seemingly random clutter, indicating concepts and themes.
Dawson and Miller are two-fifths of the 4th BCT's Human Terrain Team, a research group which includes military and civilian research managers, analysts and social scientists who help the brigade understand their Iraqi counterparts and citizens socially, economically and culturally. In counterinsurgency, says Gen. David Petraeus, "people are the decisive terrain." In this sense, the HTT are mapmakers; in their office is a large social network map, a work in progress that charts the relationships of influential Iraqis in the area according to their social connections.
"We're a roving band of researchers – we're more than just academics," said Miller. "Our whole goal is to provide useful information to the brigade so they can plan operations."
"Anthropology, in a way, is a discipline of thought," said Dawson. "The job of an anthropologist, at the end of the day, is to go out and get that other group's words." Dawson's background is applied anthropology, and before joining the HTT he was a consultant for corporations, often doing something called "innovation research." In a way, the study he is working on with the ePRT is similar. "The emphasis anthropologists have is going out and getting the 'native language', which in this case actually is the language of the company commanders and squads we talk to," he said.
With Bevers and Miller he has gathered the words of both Iraqis and coalition Soldiers relating to every aspect of governance, and without preconceived ideas as to how to organize them, he moves the strips of paper around and reorganizes them, looking for patterns that emerge. By doing so, he not only gathers knowledge that may be lurking in the data, but also gets answers to questions unasked.
"We don't ask questions of interest to the brigade – we look for answers that are of interest to the brigade, but the questions may not be the same thing," he said.
The focus of their project is to collect some of the knowledge of how Iraqi government actually works, with hopes of passing along lessons learned to troops, which will continue 4th BCT's and the north Babil ePRT's work in building local governments' capacity.
"At the eleventh hour, there is a realization that this is a historic transition here; this is the end of the surge and there may – inshallah – not be any more 15-month deployments. These guys have a unique perspective. These guys have a stockpile of knowledge about this area and about how things work," said Miller. Just as computer hard drives are wiped before Soldiers redeploy, Miller said, "That's going to be the same effect for all of this knowledge that these ground-level commanders have. When they go home, in a lot of ways, their hard drives are going to get wiped, and whatever has not been in some way captured, is going to be lost."
The collage technique they use, said Dawson, is a modified form of grounded theory, a process in which information is collected, sorted and examined, and then ideas emerge which help form a hypothesis that can be tested. Dawson said it is normally a long, arduous process involving a team. At times during the process he draws on input from Bevers and Maj. Kimberly Peeples, ePRT deputy team leader, to stay on track.
Defining a new role for the future
Bevers sees the work being done by the HTT as a unique opportunity for scholars and anthropologists. For years Iraqi society was one that was difficult to get access to and studies like this were not possible.
"I think it's going to be huge because I don't think that normally things like this get done. This is going to really help, in my opinion, at least get the information to the new team, to help them better and more effectively plan their operations," Bevers said.
As he prepares for his role to shift from the ePRT to working with the State Dept.'s United States Agency for International Development, Bevers said he hopes the HTT's study will chart a new course.
"I think it will make a big impact. It will probably help define my role for the next two years," he said.
This work, How to build a government: Embedded provincial reconstruction team and Human Terrain Team chart a roadmap for the future, by SGT David Turner, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.