- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 22, 2005

BABYLON, Iraq — U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad inaugurated a provincial reconstruction team in central Iraq yesterday — launching a civilian-led approach to rebuilding the country that could take the burden off the U.S. military.

In Cairo, leaders of Iraq’s Shi’ites, Kurds and Sunnis wrapped up a conference organized by the Arab League by condemning terrorism, but calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

In Mosul in northern Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi officials continued to examine whether the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi, was among eight insurgents killed in a firefight Saturday.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said tests were being done to determine whether Zarqawi died in the raid. And a U.S. government official confirmed that DNA from the insurgents’ bodies had been taken for testing.

In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, U.S. soldiers fired on a civilian vehicle yesterday because they feared it might hold a suicide bomber, killing at least two adults and a child northeast of the capital, American and Iraqi officials said.

The provincial reconstruction teams, made up of U.S. government workers led by a State Department official, are modeled on a program that has been considered a success in Afghanistan, Mr. Khalilzad’s last post.

Previously, U.S. military commanders were in charge of coordinating projects in postwar Iraq, such as repairing schools, replacing water mains or ensuring the supply of electricity.

Mr. Khalilzad said the new teams — known as PRTs — will focus on developing the ability of Iraqi provincial officials to take the lead in reconstruction.

“Our goal in Iraq is to have an Iraq that can stand on its own two feet,” Mr. Khalilzad said while in front of a replica of the Ishtar Gate, part of Babylon’s heritage as one of the ancient world’s premier cities. “Establishing PRTs is a new addition to our strategy for success in Iraq.”

Each of Iraq’s 18 provinces eventually will have a team made up of 70 to 100 people. A U.S. diplomat will lead each PRT, with a senior military officer as a deputy. The membership will include civil-affairs troops, specialists from the U.S. Agency for International Development and representatives from the Justice and Agriculture departments.

Mr. Khalilzad said the development of governing skills at the provincial level will be critical when Iraq’s new government takes over after elections next month.

Although Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice launched the first two PRTs in Mosul during a visit Nov. 11, none of the teams will begin work in earnest until after the Dec. 15 elections, officials said. The teams for Babil, Nineveh and Tamim will serve as a test for the rest, which will start work early next year.

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