- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2006

The State Department said yesterday that it had resolved a dispute with the Pentagon over the military’s participation in the newly set up Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in Iraq, and dozens of troops are now part of the teams led by U.S. diplomats.

State Department officials also said “international teams” with staffing contribution from other countries over the next several months are expected to ease the burden on U.S. diplomatic and military personnel.

“There is a total policy agreement at both the senior levels of the State Department and Department of Defense in Washington, as well as the senior levels of the embassy in Baghdad,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

“The Department of Defense will be providing security,” he said.

A Pentagon spokesman confirmed that the Defense and State departments had agreed to work together on PRT operations in Iraq.

The American Foreign Service Association, the diplomats union, questioned Mr. McCormack’s assertion that the differences with the Pentagon have been entirely worked out.

“We want to see those serious differences resolved before any of our members set foot on the ground,” a Foreign Service spokesman said. “We insist upon the continuous review of security arrangements in each one of these posts to ensure the maximum possible security for all Foreign Service personnel.”

For months, the Pentagon was opposed to establishing the teams because of domestic pressure to begin reducing troop levels in Iraq.

“There was some initial resistance, but it was worked out,” a State Department official, who asked not to be named, said in reference to the Pentagon. “When we are ready with the full staffing of a PRT, we go to the military, and it provides a team.”

Four PRTs have been set up since January in Baghdad, Hilla, Mosul and Kirkuk, and a fifth is expected to begin operations in either Ramadi or Fallujah, the official said.

The teams are led by a diplomat, whose deputy is a member of the military, he said. The PRTs also include aid officials and workers, as well as civilian contractors and local officials.

The mission of the teams, which exceed 100 members each, is to help the provinces in which they operate to build institutions and learn about economic development, rule of law and security.

Mr. McCormack said that 37 out of 43 State Department PRT positions have been filled.

He added that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was grateful to the people who had volunteered for the most dangerous assignments in the Foreign Service.

But other officials said recruiting Foreign Service officers for those jobs has not been easy, considering that more than 1,000 of them already have served in Iraq since the war began three years ago.

“We are getting more than enough people, but we are not sure we are getting the right people,” the State Department official said.

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