- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 15, 2010


Although the refrains of mutual sniping from our diplomats and soldiers in combat areas sometimes appear in the press, the reality is that over the past several years, we have learned more often than not to work quite well together to achieve common goals. This is nowhere more evident than in Iraq’s fractious Ninewa province, beset by competing claims from Kurds, Arabs and other ethnic groups and still a troublesome but waning support zone for terrorists. Over the course of Operation Iraqi Freedom, however, we have seen a maturing of the civilian-military relationship between U.S. forces and the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Our personal experience in Ninewa, as the respective civilian and military senior leaders for the past year, shows that transparency and solidarity achieve the unity of effort we need to win this war and secure the peace.

The task is not easy: We represent separate bureaucratic cultures and traditions. Neither of us is subordinate to the other, but rather accountable to our own hierarchies, ultimately leading to the president. Furthermore, Ninewa, Iraq’s second-most-populous province, is one of the most complex environments anywhere in the world: Violent extremist networks and criminals threaten stability; Arabs and Kurds have yet to solve long-standing territorial disputes; and the Sunni population, dominant locally but subject to Shia-led majority rule at the national level, remains skeptical of U.S. intentions.

We overcame these obstacles in northern Iraq to form what we proudly called Team Ninewa. Together with the commanders of two U.S. Army brigades, we drew on the collective talents of many U.S. government agencies, dozens of civilian subject-matter experts and more than 7,000 military service members to assist Iraqi authorities and citizens to strengthen democracy, improve security and achieve sustainable development.

As Team Ninewa leaders, we developed mechanisms to coordinate funding in the province, saving U.S. taxpayers millions of foreign-assistance dollars. This required close coordination and compromise between civilian and military leaders. Our civilian diplomats adjusted to a disproportionate balance of resources that favors our armed forces and to life in a high-risk combat zone where working 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week, is the norm. Our uniformed personnel learned to respect “the suits,” civilian officials who take the lead on most bilateral issues in Iraq following implementation of the Strategic Framework Agreement, and with the arching horizon of traditional bilateral cooperation, rather than the unilateral “quick wins” often associated with one-year deployments of military units.

As leaders and commanders, we directed our subordinates to collaborate daily, advising that in Iraq, already replete with conflict, nothing is gained without cooperation and a sense of common purpose. We jointly reached out to leaders and citizens across Ninewa, commemorating our accomplishments and dealing with our setbacks. We built surrogate families to fill the void created by separation from loved ones back home. We also shed tears - suits and uniforms standing side by side - at memorial ceremonies for our fallen colleagues.

The results of such deliberate teamwork were manifest. In the aftermath of catastrophic car bombings in eastern Ninewa, we secured local support for a national-level initiative to implement a tripartite (Iraqi, Kurdish and U.S. forces) security mechanism that protected minorities in disputed areas and established a framework for building confidence between Kurds and Arabs. When an Arab-Kurd row over freedom of movement devolved into a hostage-taking imbroglio, we tapped our rule-of-law advisers to help central Iraqi leaders negotiate a resolution and cool tensions. Leading up to Iraq’s critical national election in March, we worked behind the scenes with local electoral and security officials to implement a plan that ultimately drew more than 1 million courageous voters to the polls and ensured the security of citizens on election day.

The civilian and military experts on our team tackled unemployment and protected against local terrorist recruiters; established associations for farmers and women to pool resources across ethnic lines; and coordinated with provincial authorities to establish Ninewa 2030, an infrastructure-planning exercise that provided the first opportunity in generations for many local Iraqis to look beyond their daily hardships to envision a future of stability and prosperity.

Ninewa faces many challenges, but thanks to Iraqi resolve supported by U.S. teamwork, it has achieved considerable progress since emerging from full-scale conflict. Local authorities are increasingly responsible for such success, but we believe our joint U.S. civilian-military cooperation in partnering with our Iraqi friends has been a significant and highly positive factor. The United States faces an array of similar challenges in other conflict and post-conflict countries. From our experience, there is no question that unity of effort among our civilian agencies and U.S. armed forces can create a tangible multiplier effect, giving new meaning to the motto found on our nation’s Great Seal: E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one.”

W. Patrick Murphy, a career foreign service officer with the State Department, recently completed an assignment in Iraq as leader of the interagency Ninewa Provincial Reconstruction Team. Brigadier General Thomas Vandal is a deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, currently deployed in northern Iraq.

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