A Baghdad update from Lt. Col. Dan Williams

Gwen Chamberlain
Lt. Col. Dan Williams

Transformational.

That’s how Dan Williams describes what’s happening in Iraq. Williams is a former Penn Yan area resident, now a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army who is stationed in Baghdad, where he serves as the public affairs officer for the multi-national security transition command in Iraq.

Williams, who was selected for promotion to colonel in November,  says since he returned to Iraq nearly nine months ago, he has seen tremendous things happening in the country.

He says one of the major pushes now is to complete recruiting and training of Iraqi police so multi-national forces can be reduced to “pre-surge” levels by the fall of 2008. Another area where the Iraqi forces have made much progress is in logistics.

While he is optimistic about the progress he reports the Iraqis have made in regaining the management of their country, he is also realistic about the challenges that still exist. And he sees the need for continued caution as the Iraqis work for a return to normalcy.

The telephone conversation used for the basis of this article took place on Jan. 22, several days before renewed efforts by insurgents resulted in more deadly bombings in Baghdad last Friday, one day after a U.S. attack in Pakistan killed an Al Qaeda leader.

Iraqi leaders have reported the number of attacks have fallen by 60 percent since last June and that the number of Iraqis killed violently in January 2008 (466) was 76 percent lower than the number killed violently in January 2007 (1,971).

“The trust factor is just not there yet and there’s a ways to go. There are still some bad guys out there, but they’re on the ropes, and if they can come out and do some damage, they will,” he says.

But he also says, as the Iraqis make progress in many areas — especially increasing the numbers of active police, the standard of living will continue to rise. “And as the standard of living rises, people will take initiative.”

“The plan is to fill the provinces with police,” he explains, noting that about 450 basic recruit police officers were set to graduate in early February following the mid- and late-January graduation of more than 2,000 recruits.

Williams says the latest graduating class of police officers, which was 50 percent Sunni, took on the motto, “We are Iraq.” Up to this point, most police officer recruits have been Shiite Muslims. “Sunnis (who are in the minority in Iraq) are seeing it (being a police officer) as being a viable option,” explains Williams.

(Since then, the Iraq government has passed a law that will permit Baathists  to return to their jobs. This includes Saddam Hussein-era officials, according to international reports.)

Williams uses this as an example of what he calls grassroots reconciliation — in opposition to the anticipation of the outbreak of a civil war, and points to progress being made in places like Al Anbar Province, which he said was “the wild wild west” until last fall.

There had been no coalition deaths in that area west of Baghdad where there had been major resistance between Oct. 8, 2007 and just a few days ago, when a U.S. soldier was killed.

That grassroots reconciliation is at the root of the transformation Williams illustrates with other Iraqi growth, such as:

• 60,000 added to the Iraqi military ranks and growth of support forces by 3,000 to 4,000.

• A 20 percent growth in the Iraqi Air Force and the addition of 100 more sailors in the Iraqi Navy.

• Growth of Special Operations by 2,200

• The addition of 45,000 to the ranks of Province Police forces throughout the country, and 8,000 in the national police ranks. The Province Police are similar to what we refer to as state police in the U.S. But in Iraq, only the police officers can make arrests. Regular policemen can’t make arrests, but they can detain someone.

The National Police are all located in Baghdad, where they focus on counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism efforts.

• The graduation of a new class of 103 border police. “We think we’ve got problems along the border in the U.S.,” says Williams, explaining all of Iraq’s border except 12 kilometers is exposed to other Arab countries. The border enforcement grew by 4,500 in 2007, he says.

• Re-training national police. Williams says there are 10 brigades of national police in Baghdad. One at a time, the brigades are receiving refresher trainings on basic skills. “This gives them a break, an opportunity to mold together and learn staff training.”

Recruitment for the police force and the Iraqi Army has never been a problem, says Williams, explaining a recruitment event held recently in one of the more violent neighborhoods drew 500 men and women applicants for the 200 available positions.

All these new police and soldiers need a chain of command, and work is being done there as well. “One of the things we know is leadership takes time and you have to grow leaders,” he says. This year the number of  non-commissioned officers will grow by 9,900 through a new training program.

“There is still a tremendous shortage in leadership. We’re working hard at growing leaders.”

While the population of Iraq hovers at about 27 million now, he says people are coming back home “by the busload. That’s an encouraging indicator of the surge’s success,” he says.

As fields that are funded with public monies grow, the need for resources to pay for them grows as well. Williams says these additional public sector jobs are being funded mainly through revenues from oil production. “It’s not the best crude, but they are beginning to see the benefit of the free market.”

In gaining control of their logistics and supply management, the Iraqis are making a lot of progress, but they still need to improve, says Williams. “What we’re dealing with is in administrative capacity-building,” he says, explaining, “One of the big challenges will be for them to train themselves to be fully in charge of all their training and acquisition — bringing in all they need when they need it.”

A critical example is fuel. “They still run out, so we help them out,” he says, adding, “This year there is a real strong push on logistics and maintenance training in the lower levels.”

Finally, Williams provided an overview of the foreig n military sales program which was started last year. The program is an organized way for Iraq to purchase supplies and equipment. In 2006 $1 billion was spent on trucks, cars and other vehicles through the program. In 2007, that amount doubled to $2 billion.

There are three ways the Iraqis can buy items through the international program. They can buy directly from another government (they recently bought some small guns from China); they can purchase items through the Iraqi Security Forces Fund (U.S. funds that are used to make up for certain shortages) or through the Foreign Military Sales program. In that program, the Iraqi government deposits funds in a New York City bank, and then applies to spend portions of that money on specific items through an approval process administered by the U.S.

Another initiative is for the Iraqis to take over their own “life support” services, such as food and lodging. New facilities are being built and outfitted around the country.

“The goal this year is to see them gain more capabilities of their own,” he says.

Williams adds one of the most meaningful experiences in his job is “To see how we’ve helped them find a way to procure and use their equipment.”

And with the Iraqis spending $3 for every U.S. dollar on supply chain spending, he says the goal is for Iraq to spend $9 billion while the U.S. invests $3 billion.

Williams will return to the U.S. in April. He is the public affairs officer responsible for the media outreach for the multi-national security transition command in Iraq.

That means in addition to coordinating media engagements for six U.S. general officers, two British general officers and officers from Finland and Australia, he assists with the training and equipping of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Joint Military Headquarters and Ministry of the Interior (which includes the Iraqi National Police and the provincial police forces) media teams — the top level Iraqi military and domestic spokespeople.

He is also responsible for helping the Iraqi government establish strategic communications plans from the top of the government down and is responsible for the publication of the Advisor, an eight page newspaper about the ongoing activities of the Iraqi miliary and police forces.

And if that isn’t already demanding enough, most of his work is done through an interpreter.

Williams, who has been in the U.S. Army 24 years, graduated from Penn Yan Academy in 1974.

He says some former classmates might remember him from the wrestling team, and many who attended school at Penn Yan Academy will remember his father, Ronald Williams, an English teacher.

After graduating from PYA, he went to Baptist Bible College in Clark Summit, Pa, graduating in 1979.