By C. Todd Lopez
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq (Dec. 01, 2011) -- By Dec. 31, 2011, a large portion of the United States presence in Iraq will be gone -- but not all of it.
In place of the United States Forces-Iraq presence, America will instead have a largely non-military presence -- a sizable U.S. embassy staff in Baghdad that is charged with taking up in Iraq where the military left off.
It will be a big change from what Iraqis are used to seeing in their country, which has had a large U.S. military presence since a U.S.-led invasion toppled Iraq's sitting dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
"The public face of the U.S. government will (now) be principally civilian," said former U.S. embassy spokesman, David Ranz. "For the average Iraqi, if he had any direct interaction with somebody from the U.S. government up until now, chances are it was somebody in green."
The embassy staff, under James F. Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, will number a few thousand, Ranz said. The embassy will be performing many of the missions the military used to. And while Ranz said the size of the embassy staff is nowhere near close to the size of the USF-I presence in Iraq, he feels confident in the embassy's ability to take over the mission.
"We feel like we're going to be able to conduct the mission effectively," he said. "It won't be exactly the same, and it won't be quite as robust, but we at the State Department do this kind of thing in dozens of embassies around the world. So we feel confident we will be able to take it over."
Ranz said that the military equipping and training mission, along with the police-training mission, are probably the two largest functions that will transfer from military to civilian leadership with the transition in December. As part of the police-training mission, Ranz said, the embassy staff will focus more on "executive-level" training.
"It's the train-the-trainer approach," Ranz said. "Our State Department's Office of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement is right now in the process of assuming responsibility for that. They have been involved in police training programs around the world. The actual implementers are principally police officials -- American police officials who have been involved in international training in the past."
While all USF-I forces and most military personnel will leave Iraq before the end of 2011, about 120 U.S. military personnel will stay behind, as part of the embassy's Office of Security Cooperation.
One of the missions of OSC-Iraq will be to equip and train the Iraqi military, a mission that previously belonged to USF-I. Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, the former deputy commanding general, USF-I Advise and Train, handed over command of the newly stood up OSC-I to its first director, Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, Oct. 1.
The OSC-I will continue to develop the relationship between the U.S. military and the Iraqi military. Caslen will report to the ambassador, and will conduct equipping and training missions in the country, as well as facilitate foreign military sales -- similar to other OSC offices in places like Turkey and Egypt.
"OSC-I will work for the ambassador and deliver foreign military sales, as well as provide the international military education and training opportunities," Ferriter said. "(It) will also work with Iraq officials to identify young Iraqi officers and NCOs to go back to our schools each year, and also we will have the ability, on a much smaller scale, to advise and mentor Iraqi military leaders."
When the Iraqi military wants to purchase new military hardware, Caslen's OSC-I, under the embassy, will be responsible for making that happen.
Already, Ferriter said, the Iraqis have purchased helicopters, Humvees, M-1 battle tanks, M113 armored personnel carriers, howitzers and other items. The Iraqis are also now committed to purchasing new F-16 aircraft.
The foreign military sales program, Ferriter said, will provide Iraq a "corruption-free" ability to get the military equipment it needs to defend itself. Foreign military sales packages, the general added, usually include not only equipment, but also training and maintenance capabilities. The training and maintenance portions of the contract will most likely be civilian contractors, in either the United States or in Iraq, the general said, though facilitation will fall under OSC-I.
On an Iraqi purchase of patrol boats, for instance, Ferriter said the Iraqis were able to send their sailors to the Louisiana to receive training from civilian contractors as well as U.S. Sailors.
The OSC-I will also be responsible for continued training opportunities between the Iraqi and U.S. militaries, the general said. And such training opportunities will occur the same as they do in other nations where the U.S. has partnerships with militaries.
"The two countries will get together and they will decide what relationship they want and how they will do it," Ferriter said. "The first part of that is to send their officers and soldiers to our schools in the United States. With a lot of countries we have joint exercises, like with Thailand we have Cobra Gold."
When the American embassy in Iraq works with the Iraqis to develop a country plan, such training opportunities will be part of the discussion, Ferriter said.
While continuing to work to develop Iraq's security capability will be an important role for the U.S. embassy there, Ranz said the embassy will focus on other areas as well, such as economic development.
"Everything from economic cooperation, political and diplomatic cooperation, educational, scientific and technical cooperation, law enforcement and health care," Ranz said. "It's a very wide range of civilian areas where we have programming. And that will become the focus of our diplomatic relationship with the Iraqi government, as well as our relationship with the people. And the security issues will become a subset of that rather than the principle focus."
One area of concern for Iraq's future development, Ranz said, is ensuring the country expands its economy beyond the oil industry -- for both expansion of employment opportunities and to ensure its economy isn't entirely dependent on an industry subject to price fluctuations.
"Right now, Iraq relies almost exclusively on oil revenue for its budgetary revenue," Ranz said. "And the economy in general is heavily reliant on the oil sector. That is not generally a hugely employment-generating sector, and unemployment is a very big problem here."
As in other parts of the Arab world, Ranz said, large cadres of youth in Iraq are unemployed.
"(They) do not feel they have a voice in the future of their country, and eventually they will go to the street and make their views known," Ranz said. "Iraq is in many ways well ahead of where these other countries were, because it does have a representative government. People do have an opportunity to express their views, and they do demonstrate. But unemployment is a serious problem. In the medium-term Iraq needs to find jobs by promoting and developing its private sector."
Ranz said the private sector in Iraq is "feeble" today, and that is something the embassy is discussing with the Iraqi government -- in particular, how to develop a more investor-friendly climate that would bring money and opportunity to Iraq.
"In order to get a lot more investment and in a broader range of areas of the economy, there needs to be a focus ... on commercial courts that are seen as efficient and fair," Ranz said. "And there is an issue with visas and getting workers in here that needs to be addressed. So I would say the other big challenge is Iraq generating a more diversified economy that is attractive to foreign investors, and creates the employment that is going to be necessary to absorb the youth, who are still growing pretty rapidly and don't have enough jobs."
Ranz said in Iraq, the U.S. government has spent as much as $58 billion in reconstruction and development, while the Iraqi government has invested around $110 billion. Most of that spending, he said, has focused heavily on reconstruction, schools, hospitals and clinics, for instance
"That is not traditionally the way the U.S. government does development," Ranz said. "But it was the focus that was needed in a post-conflict environment. We are now moving into a new era, where what we really need to do is work with the Iraqis to develop their capacity to meet their own needs and do their own work. Whether it is working with the Ministry of Agriculture to work on new techniques for water conservation, whether it is working with the government and the private sector on how the private sector can build up its capacity to generate employment -- those are going to be our primary focus."
Until the withdrawal of U.S. Forces from Iraq, the American embassy in that country was very much dependent on the services provided by the military there, Ranz said. That is something the embassy will need to learn to get along without.
"We rely on USF-I for a lot of logistical and security and life support needs, and we are in the process of assuming those responsibilities," Ranz said. "This is the largest transition from a military-led to a civilian-led effort since the Marshall plan in Europe. It is an enormous undertaking. Smoothly taking over the areas of responsibility in the areas of life support and security and logistics that the military provides us right now, that's probably going to be our biggest challenge."
Nevertheless, Ranz said he believes the U.S. embassy in Iraq is ready to assume responsibility from USF-I, and to continue the partnership there between the United States and the newly formed government in Iraq.
"We have spent every waking hour of the nearly year that I've been here, and I'm sure a lot of time before that, painstakingly going through everything we need to do in order to effectively take over and ensure a smooth transition," Ranz said. "This embassy has some of the most experienced officers anywhere in the State Department."
Ranz also recognized that USF-I, and the servicemembers who fell under that command, have laid the groundwork for what the embassy staff must now do on its own.
"I want to give UFS-I and all its antecedents and all of the hundreds of thousands of Soldiers that have cycled through here -- in some case three, four or more times -- the credit they deserve," he said. "If we do succeed in this venture, and I am confident in our capacity to do so, it will be in no small part to the effort and dedication and sacrifice that out military brethren have made here. We can do our mission, but we will miss that partnership with USF-I, and we will miss the people that we have grown to love and trust on a day-to-day basis."