Notes on ePRT Western Anbar for Stability Workshop


I understand that most of you know what an ePRT does and what tasks it is supposed to accomplish, but let me review the particulars of our ePRT to set the stage.   Please note the caveat.  I worked as team leader of an independent ePRT.  I reported directly to Baghdad.  The new situation has the ePRT leader reporting to the Anbar PRT.   This may have changed relationships with the RCT.


We were embedded with the respectively with the 2nd and the 5th Marines.  You (the 8th Marines) will be the third RCT for the ePRT.   The ePRT leader has an office on the command deck across from the Colonel commanding the RCT and works closely with the USMC leadership.   I attended the sensitive brief every morning, as well as the Op-Intel and the targeting briefings.   My staff worked closely with counterparts at the RCT, especially with civil affairs, who we usually depended on to get us around in the field.  We also embedded generalists with the Marine battalions in Hit, Hadithah, Al Qaim, Rawah/Anah & Rutbah.   In doing this, we were following the spirit of COIN, getting close to the people. 


Our relationships were constantly evolving in response to changing conditions.  At first, we could not travel because of both real danger and the perception of risk.  Later we got around a lot more.    If you look at my blog posts, you can trace the evolution.  I didn’t do my first “foot patrol” until December.   By the time I left they had become a standard part of any visit.  This brings me to my first lesson. 


  • Treat ePRT members as team assets to be deployed not exotic visitors to be protected.  We are not fighters, but we WILL accept reasonable risk in order to do our jobs, which we cannot do w/o the capacity to meet and talk to Iraqis.  I got many of my best insights from walking in the markets and spontaneously talking to people there.  Let us do what we need to do AND expect it from us.


Most ePRT members are not military and few of us have recent military experience.   This makes us slow to understand some of the procedures and hierarchies.  Some ePRT members will not even be able to recognize the symbols of rank.   I had to explain to one of my ePRT members that the guy with the eagles on his shoulders was the colonel and that you should not bother him in the chow hall or on the way to the head.  The next lesson is.


  • Be patient with ePRT members and explain Marine procedures, traditions and attitudes.  We want to learn about the Marines and we admire your commitment and discipline.   We just don’t always understand.  There is a cultural difference among us.   On the other hand DO expect that ePRT members will respect legitimate authority and comply with security procedures.   As I mentioned above, we are part of the team with responsibilities that go with that.


Lines of Operation (LOOs) were in transition when I left.   There was discussion about whether to give responsibility for LOOs in things like development, governance and rule of law directly to the ePRT/PRT.   You will have to figure this out when you get to Al Asad.  But no matter who has the lead, please remember that accomplishing the LOOs is a joint venture.


  • LOOs in the AO cannot be accomplished w/o cooperation between the ePRT and the RCT.   We cannot hand them off to each other.  One fight-one team.


The fact that the ePRT leader is a civilian is very useful.   I believe I added value to discussions for that reason alone.   Marines felt (rightly so) that they would have to explain things to me in more detail or in different ways.  I also had to take into account a different way of thinking which made me think in more innovative ways.  This very exercise and our interaction helped produce synergy and better solutions.  The Iraqis also appreciated seeing civilians.  It gave them (IMO) a greater feeling that things were becoming normal and safer. 


  • In conflict zones a team that includes both military and civilian members is more likely to produce innovative solutions than either would individually.   It also is good public relations with the local communities.


Ideally the ePRT should act like a catalyst.  I use catalyst in the strict definition:  it is something that speeds up but is NOT consumed and remains apart from the reaction.  Our goal was to get the Iraqis to do things for themselves.   Often we – both the U.S. government in general and the ePRT in particular – were not the appropriate ones to accomplish a particular task.  Marines are action oriented but sometimes the best action is none.


  • The ePRT is supposed to be the catalyst that causes others (usually Iraqis) to do things, not always to do things itself.  Sometimes the appropriate action for the ePRT is nothing.


If there was a significant point of failure in our relationship, it was my fault.  I lacked the specific language skills and expertise in Iraq.  One of my tasks was to advise the RCT commander and the Marines about local customs, politics and culture.   In fact, I learned from them more than they learned from me.  I don’t have a specific point of recommendation here.   This is just an observation.


  • State Dept personnel bring the general strength of diplomatic experience, but may lack Iraq specific expertise.


There is a fundamental difference between DoD and DoS culture when it comes to planning and end states.   DoD moves people and things.   They have to plan logistics so that everything arrives when and where it should.  It is important to have control over all the links in the chain and there is usually a goal and a specific end state.  State Dept lives in a different sort of environment.   We move communications, opinions and ideas.   They arrive or are delivered by different means – many of which are outside our control - at different times.   We can never be sure of delivery and there is no real end state.  Our goal is to be robust enough to cope with what comes and we don’t expect to “solve” problems.


  • State Department’s mission to do diplomacy is much more ambiguous than DoD’s mission to accomplish specific goals.   Sometimes our process looks chaotic to Marines.   The best way we can understand each other is to think of the concept of commander’s intent.   State works to goals that are like commander’s intent, but our situation is more fluid and responsive to change, more like the planning during an actual battle.  The intent shows through, but the methods differ. 


Speaking of changes let me shift gears here.  You asked me about two things.  The first was to talk about the ePRT experience; the second was to talk about the regions of western Anbar.   Let me move to part two and I can take questions about either when I am finished.   BTW – I have linked to articles re the subject included, when possible.  Follow the links or go to my webpage 


Al Qaim
The saying around here is that the sun rises in the west, since Al Qaim was the first district to throw off the insurgents.  Al Qaim, which includes the regions of Husaybah, Ramanana, Karbilah and New Ubaydi, was the most advanced economically and politically, but its progress has slowed in recent months.  Our LNO there sees this not so much a problem as a simple case of diminishing returns.  It is like what happens after a forest fire. Progress is quick in the early stages of recovery but naturally slows as the region approaches a mature situation.   Al Qaim both benefits and suffers from the legacy of state investment.  The region has a big phosphate plant and a cement factory as well as a railroad repair center.  None of them are working to full capacity.  The rail center is in the process of being demilled 

The Al Qaim region has some of the richest soil in the Middle East, according to our Ag Advisor.  Beyond that, the river water at this point carries less salt and mineral, so that it takes significantly less water to sustainably produce crops here than farther downstream, where more gallon of water must be used to avoid salinity. The ePRT is working to hold an agricultural conference in September to address some agricultural issues.

Rawah/Anah has a split personality, with Anah much better run politically and better managed in general.   However, they share the environment.  The region is heavily agricultural and agriculture has suffered from the long drought.  This is exacerbated by low water levels on the Euphrates caused not only by the drought but also by water diversions in Syria and Turkey.  The Euphrates will probably never reach the water flow it did a generation ago.  Many of the regions pumps and pipes no longer reach flowing water.  Updating agriculture is a priority here.

The Hadithah Triad, which includes Hadithah, Barwana and Haqlaniyah, is our success story.  You remember Hadithah from the play it got in the media.  When I arrived ten months ago Hadithah was a prime concern.   The RCT doubled down on the region and it became the biggest recipient of our QRF and other programs.  Earlier this year CSP opened and office there and has been very active.  Today it is thriving.  The biggest problem is growth.  We are trying to develop accurate figures, but it is clear that the Triad is experiencing a population boom.  Property values are rising and there is building everywhere you look.  Perhaps this is the bounce effect we say in Al Qaim several months ago, but for now the Triad is our shinning star.  Of course, I should add the caveat that everything is relative.   The region still suffers the paradox of high unemployment and a shortage of skilled labor, for example.

If the Triad is thriving, Hit, which includes Hit, Baghdadi, Kubaysah and Phurat, is its dark twin.  Hit suffers from especially poor and corrupt leadership at the top, which has been a significant impediment to our efforts.  The ePRT avoids all projects directly involving the mayor, which limits our reach.  On the hopeful side, the city council in Hit is basically sound and those in the satellite regions are good.  Beyond that, the rot at the top cannot hold back economic growth, which has been significant.

Our biggest area geographically is Rutbah, which includes Nukhayb, Akashat, and the border ports of Waleed and Trebil.   The region borders on Saudi Arabia, Jordan and SyriaRutbah is several months behind in its development.  It recently got a new and dynamic mayor and it making progress.  The biggest issue for arid and sparsely populated Rutbah is water.   Rutbah owes its existence to watering holes, but they are not extensive. The modern city grew around a British fort built in the 1920s.  At that time there was a few hundred people.   Now the population is around 30,000 and growing rapidly, which is taxing the local environment.  Rutbah has access to wells, but the pipes are inadequate. There is a big western desert project that is supposed to bring water from the Euphrates.  See above about water in the Euphrates.   Besides sheep herding, the region is important for the POEs, the borders and phosphate production.  We only recently send a permanent LNO to Rutbah and he is closely assessing the situation.  His priorities are to make sure LPG training is done all over the region and to facilitate the establishment of a regional council.


Anbar Reconstructs

A lot has changed in Western Anbar since I arrived here almost a year ago and as my assignment comes to an end, I can appreciate them.  


The first big difference is the physical appearance.  Last year much of this province looked like what it had recently been – a war zone.  Shops and homes were boarded up, in ruins or flattened.  People looked shocked and sullen.   Anbar is still not up to what most of us would consider acceptable standards, but improvements are phenomenal and the change palpable. 


Along the whole Western Euphrates River Valley (WERV) and into the desert oasis cities of Nukhayb and Rutbah markets are open; streets are busy; the shops are full of goods; things are happening.   We used to use a “banana index” where we looked at produce in the shops as a proxy for goods being available.  Bananas available that were not green or brown indicated a decent distribution network. Today that index is overtaken by events, since shops are full.  We now are thinking of going over to a “gold standard” since we now see gold and jewels in shop windows and assume that the owners must feel safe enough from both insurgents and ordinary crooks to be so confident.

Security is increasingly taken for granted by many people and now they are moving on to other concerns, such as economy, traffic and building their lives.

We have much more freedom of movement.   I didn't do my first market walk until January of this year.  Now we walk in the Iraqi markets on almost every trip, talking to people and finding out about their hopes and problems.

A year ago there were serious fuel shortages.  While problems remain (many resulting from government controls on prices and supplies), the refinery at K3 in Husaybah is up and running.  This seemed like an impossible dream when I first saw the place a few months ago.   K3 produces naphtha, kerosene, benzene and heavy fuel oil.  It is still not up to 100% production, but it is way up from ... nothing last year.  

The crude oil, BTW, arrives from Bayji by rail.  This railroad was not working and was not secure just a few months ago.  I remember flying over the rail/highway route in a Huey, with the narration being that it could work, but there were lots of challenges. Getting the rail system up and running is another great accomplishment of the past year.   CF are vacating a big rail yard in Al Qaim within weeks.  (This is a little sad for me, as.  Camp Al Qaim was the nicest of the FOBs in our AO.  It had a great chow hall.)  This will essentially clear the lines all across Anbar.

The rail network in Anbar is essentially intact, although there was heavy looting of stations.   This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Much of the equipment was old and the opportunity to replace it with much improved and new computerized gear will pay dividends in the immediate future.  There is nothing to stop heavy materials such as phosphate and cement from travelling by rail, and within a few years Iraq will certainly take its place as a transportation keystone of the Middle East

We have also seen a reassertion of the pattern of centralized order in Iraq.  When I arrived last year, I had more confidence in the ability of local authorities to get things done, and my perception of the society here was patterned more on my own previous experience than the experience of the Iraqis. 

It is a common historical pattern.  It happened on a bigger scale when the Roman Empire declined.  As government order breaks down, localism comes to dominate.  Last year, in the immediate wake of war, the people of Anbar had been localized.  They were more dependent on nearby authorities and institutions such as family/tribe & religion that were simpler and closer.   This looks like it was an ephemeral condition.  As order returns, so does centralization.  

We are seeing a reassertion of the top-down pattern, where the center controls the resources. Local authorities look to provincial authorities for resources and direction; provincial authorities look to Baghdad.  Mayors are administrators w/o an independent power base.  Everybody grumbles and does this somewhat grudgingly, but the system seems to be coming to life and working reasonably well, especially when pumped up by the steroid of vast oil wealth.   

This is not a completely positive development, IMO.  I personally don't like such concentrations of governmental power, but we have to recognize that Iraq will not be a bottom-up society, like the U.S.   It is not what most Iraqis are accustomed to, not what they expect and it is not what they want.   An ePRT like mine working at the sub-provincial level increasingly runs up against the power of higher-up Iraqi authorities.   These are the guys who make the decisions and these are the guys we need to influence.  I wonder if our time is not almost done, at least in our current incarnation. We did a good job and maybe this is it.

I am ambivalent about this.  After all, it is a bureaucratic imperative to perpetuate itself.  But a greater imperative is to know when your work is done and not hang around like a fart in a phone booth.  When the western hero is finished, he rides off into the sunset; he doesn't rent a bungalow in town and make himself a nuisance. 

In order to influence the Iraqi society and institutions, our organizations will need to mirror theirs, at least in an operational sense.   We need to act at the nodes of power, principally at the provincial and national level, so our ePRT will need to be integrated with the PRT in Ramadi, maybe absorbed, and through them to our colleagues in Baghdad.  This is coming.  I work directly for the Office of Provincial Affairs (OPA) in the Embassy.   My successor will work for the Team Leader of the Anbar PRT in Ramadi. 

I just don't know and I don't think I will figure it out in my last week here.  I will recommend changes in form and give my opinions.  It won’t be my decision, but I cannot envision this team still being here next year in anything like its current form. 

As it says in the Book of the Tao, "Withdraw, your work once done, into obscurity; this is the way of Heaven."



Western Anbar Progress Report

Sometimes you cannot see the forest for the trees and it might be that I am too close to the situation.  My information comes from talking to people and walking in Anbar.  I report what I see and what I believe to be true.  The caveat to my information is that it is raw material. The people with the big brains can check and aggregate all the information they get from me and others to draw the big picture.   Below is my assessment of progress in Western Anbar in September 2008.  


Governance has continued to improve.  City councils are in place in all our major areas and all have received training from USG funded trainers.  There are still significant differences among jurisdictions.  In order of effectiveness, they are Al Qaim, Anah, Hadithah, Rutbah, Rawah and Hit.   Rutbah has made the most impressive strides over the past period, but they started from a very low base.  An unmistakably positive trend has been the flow of Iraqi money to projects.  The Iraqis are now outspending us 5.5:1 and their trend is up while we are pulling back.  Soon they will be responsible for virtually all the big money.  The ePRT can play hardball with local communities who demand too much, because we know that they have access to GoI funds if they just do the paperwork and go through the process.  The presence of paperwork itself is a step forward, since bureaucracy is beginning to replace personal connections and visits by officials, who previously behaved like grand poobahs distributing public largess at and for their own pleasure.

Fuel delivery is meeting essential needs and has improved recently.  I include this under governance with some regret, since this more properly belong in the private economy.  It is government interference that is the biggest impediment to efficient fuel delivery, but as long as the state system is in place, we can report that it seems to be improving. As I wrote in the last assessment, the official price is too low compared with the fair market price and this central government administrative decision essentially preempts the establishment of legitimate private retail distribution of fuel. 

Our ePRT, CA or IRD has sponsored projects to improve sewage and water infrastructure and more importantly Iraqi money is flowing.  I could make the joke flowing down the sewer, but it is good that they are paying money and attention.  There is significant improvement in Baghdadi, Kubaysah, Hit and Hadithah.  Nevertheless, eating vegetables rinsed in local water remains an exciting game of probability. We usually win, but sometimes not. 


Al Anbar never had a significant religious divide, as it is overwhelmingly Sunni.   Local governments are seen as broadly representative of all groups.  But individual government official are still concerned with their own narrow interests, or often those of their respective tribes.  There are still occasional episodes of violence and intimidation, but less often.

A big challenge has and will be returning detainees.   While the numbers are not great (dozens per month, occasionally hundreds), they create serious disturbances.   Most detainees evidently reach some accommodation and reconcile. If they are unable to reconcile, the problem is usually solved at the thirty-two day mark, with a drive into the desert where more people go out than come back, which creates tension in terms of rule of law (see below).

What I wrote in the last assessment remains true.  This situation may have reached a steady state.  Mass releases of detainees may cause blips.  In general, however, the situation may improve incrementally but not dramatically since it accurately reflects long-standing local cultural and sociological preferences.

Anbar is receiving a significant number of people displaced from other areas.  We have no reliable measure of the numbers, but we see them whenever we travel.  The city of Hadithah, for example, has increased in size by several miles out into the desert.  People began arriving and setting up camps several months ago.  Now they are gathering together rocks and building more permanent dwellings.  We have been told that the local authorities are tolerating the influx and even helping them with land.

I would rate the reconciliation as performing, since it has reached a level that the local people consider acceptable and it is unlikely to change much into the near or medium-term future.

Political Development

When I wrote the last assessment, I expected that the fall elections would solve many of the problems.   I still think that may be the case, but the postponement of the elections not only postpones a solution, but makes a happy solution less likely.  We have heard some, but not too significant grumbling about the postponement. Unfortunately, I believe that this represents more resignation than acceptance. 

Political development is essentially on hold.

As I wrote in my last assessment, political parties are attempting to operate w/o recourse to violence, but it is still difficult for party leaders to understand that they should not develop militias.  The threat of violence against political parties is still real.  Insurgents have made attempts to attack some party leaders and facilities.  Sometimes it is unclear whether these are personal or local disputes or are specifically aimed at the political parties.

I also observed in the last assessment that ordinary people seem to feel free to express their political ideas and preferences.  When speaking with individual Iraqis on the streets, we are often surprised that when we tell them that they need to take matters to their local leaders, they tell us that they already have.   I would add that this openness has continued but that the results the people are getting from leaders have improved little, but they are improving.  Most of that improvement results from the increasing flow of money from GoI.  I guess any problem that you can pay your way out of is not a problem, it is just an expense, but time will tell. 

I really cannot rate this at the local level.  Last time I said it was developing, with the condition of the election.  That condition remains and bears more acutely. 


I have to divide economics into a variety of subgroups.   Progress has been uneven over Western Anbar.


There are some excellent roads, but overall they are in bad condition and not sufficient to support the economic growth Western Anbar needs.   Road building would entail considerable public investment, but is not difficult given the featureless topography and the ready supply of paving supplements.   Asphalt factories are working in Anah and the Hadithah region and with the expected supply of pitch from K3, they should have enough stuff to black top all the roads in Al Anbar and then some.

The rail network is largely intact and running in places.  The railroad supports oil deliveries to the K3 refinery and will soon service the phosphate and cement plants in Al Qaim.

Oil pipelines are still not functioning.  Although they suffered little war damage, they are easy prey to oil smugglers, who break into them along the route.  This means not only that the stolen oil is a loss, but it does not help maintain pressure and usually creates spills and stoppages.   This infrastructure problem depends more on security than economics.

Private Sector

Markets are usually well stocked.  Electronic devices are easily available.  Problems exist on the higher level of goods.  For example, it is nearly impossible to get good truck and car parts.

The most salient development of the most recent period is the proliferation of cellular phones.   These were recently rare, but are on the way to becoming ubiquitous.   I think this is on an exponential growth path.  We only started to notice them recently but the expansion is rapid.

Industrial / Manufacturing Expansion (including SOEs)

The cement plant in Al Qaim has been “sold” in an arrangement with a Romanian management firms.   We hear rumors that the phosphate operation may soon move into semi-private hands.  K3 is running and supporting ancillary businesses, such as asphalt and paving.   But there remain problems with getting medium sized plants working.   People are waiting for the state run dinosaur firms to come back into production instead of creating new ones.  There is a general problem with lack of investment capital.  While Western Al Anbar will support agribusiness and some extractive industries, principally phosphate, borax etc., these things require significant up front investment.

Construction is booming in the Hadithah Triad and Al Qaim and to a lesser extend in other regions.  This is more than a “dead cat bounce” and represents real progress.  There are actual labor shortages in some of the skilled and semi-skilled trades related to construction.  


Unemployment remains high because labor quality is low.   There are shortages of trained labor (see above) but much of the Western Anbar labor force is woefully unprepared for any kind of skilled work.   There is a great demand for vocational training, and IRD, ePRT and CA have helped, but this is a long term problem.  A more serious choke point will come when skilled workers at existing operations (such as K3 or the RR) retire.  Iraq has not trained enough skilled workers for at least twenty years.  That deficit is about to hit hard.  The good news is that there will be many opportunities for skilled and ambitious young people, since there will be a shortage.


Warka Bank has four ATMs in Al Qaim and others are expected soon.  The people and leaders of Anbar are ready for banking, and some rightly decry its lack as a major impediment to growth.   There is minor resistance to ATM and private banking because it will make skimming workers’ wages harder, but this should be overcome soon.   The bad news is that state banks may never expand to satisfy demand.  The good news is that this won’t matter if private banks such as Warka move in aggressively and are allowed to expand.

Rule of Law

IP are officially committed to the rule of law and our visits (sometimes surprise) to their facilities indicate that they are pushing the idea of rights and legality down to the level of the individual officers. The police apply the laws in doing their duty most of the time, but we still hear complaints of corruptions or favoritism.  Police usually have adequate tools, training and facilities to carry out their missions.  What they most often lack is fuel for their vehicles.  Police do not patrol to the extent necessary for this reason.

Tribal leaders profess their commitment to rule of law.  There remains some exercise of traditional law, especially in the case of released detainees whose crimes involve tribal revenge systems, but there is no overt support or encouragement from leaders.

Courts are open, and judges are applying the law with some tribal and other influences.  I wrote in the last assessment that this may have reached equilibrium level, i.e. it is performing in relation to local cultural and political standards, and that additional improvements will be incremental.  I believe that even more strongly today.  Civil authorities are trying to expand their influence in relation to traditional ones.  They are succeeding, but it will be an evolutionary process and certainly one not finished any time soon.

What I wrote in the last assessment about civil law remains true.  Civil cases are being addressed with some instances of discrimination.  Civil law execution is limited in many cases by poor record keeping.  For example, contracts and deeds are filed in no particular order.  For some properties, multiple sometimes contradictory documents may exist.  Unclear property rights may prove a major impediment to local development.  Fixing the problem is a prosaic, but long term task that will take years to work through the system. 

All these things together and the persistence of many aspects of the situation lead me to conclude that rule of law has reached the performing level, at least to the extent that we can influence the outcome.


This category should probably come first, since w/o security, nothing else is possible.  Improved security has given the people of Al Anbar the room to do the ordinary things people do, such as build their lives, families and business.

Our talks with people during market walks indicate a significant increase in confidence since the last assessment in May.   We often hear that security is not an issue, and people are more worried about things such as traffic tie ups or sewer backups.

What I wrote during the last assessment still goes.  The already good security situation in Western Al Anbar continued to improve.  Insurgents and terrorists have been largely marginalized and/or pushed out of the urban areas into the deserts.  While significant potential threat still exists, the numbers of attacks are way down.  Businesses are opening and people are rebuilding in the obvious belief that security is better. 

The IA is more professional and able to carry out independent operations with only some operational and logistical support from CF.  

PSF is aggressively going after terrorists and insurgents outside the berms.  They also have performed independent raids, which have disrupted and netted insurgents and prevented attacks.
 The IP in Western Anbar have become much more confident and competent.   They are developing leads, doing investigations and catching bad guys on their own with significant success.  There are now plans to refine and improve cooperation and interoperability among local departments.  This includes links such as joint coordination centers, which will help the districts be responsive on regional issues and address the problems of seams, as well as integrate the IP, PSF and IA for better cooperation.


I believe that we have succeeded in Western Iraq.  That does not mean that our job is completely finished or that Iraq is finished. 

We will still need to provide “security of last resort”.  The Iraqis can maintain routine security, but they will still need help with big threats.  This is not necessarily an extraordinary situation.  We often overlook the fact – precisely because it is so pervasive - to this day most European countries, Japan, Korea etc do not have the capacity to handle ALL their security requirements.  America, for good or ill, is the security source of last resort for many countries around the world.  Iraq will be no different. 

Iraq is also not a developed country.  It will take a lot of investment and years of work to bring the country up to a level we would consider acceptable.   But this is the job of the Iraqis.  We cannot do it for them and nobody should think that we should even try. They have the resources.  Iraqis are intelligent and hard working people.  We can help.  We can act as partners, as we still do around the world.  Partnership is a two-way relationship.   The Iraqis can learn from us and benefit from the relationship and we can do the same from and for them. 

I often tell my Iraqi friends that partnership does not mean we agree on everything.  We are not insulted when they express opinions at odds with ours.  Sometimes they are right.  In a good partnership, each party benefits from the strengths and compensates for the weaknesses of the others.  If they were both identical, there would be no need for the partnership and it would produce no synergy.  Partnership is what we want with the Iraqis and I think that is what we are getting.