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How to win the peace in Iraq

ANYONE WHO has been in Iraq more than a few weeks knows that the war there is not going well. The very fact that we are resorting to military force in so many parts of the country, from Sunni towns like Fallujah and Ramadi to the ethnically mixed city of Mosul to the Shi'a slums of Sadr City in Baghdad, is in itself the sign of a failed strategy.

Liberation and nation-building have been replaced by pacification and occupation via brute force, and the situation is worsening, not getting better. What began as scattered terrorist attacks and sporadic outbreaks of fighting is becoming something disturbingly like a genuine popular insurgency.

There is a way out of the deepening quagmire, though neither candidate mentioned it in the recent presidential campaign. In widely varied parts of Iraq, Army Civil Affairs teams have made real progress in befriending local Iraqis and bringing stability and peace to the areas where they have worked.

One Civil Affairs team helped farmers outside Baghdad set up an agricultural co-op to market their produce and linked up with local truckers to haul fruits and vegetables to markets in the city. Another Civil Affairs soldier, a Wall Street banker in civilian life, has used his connections back home to get loans for Baghdad industries struggling to survive in the chaotic postwar Iraqi economy; he has also been teaching Iraqis modern accounting techniques, counseling them in business ethics, and helping them replace antiquated machinery with up-to-date production systems.

This summer in Baghdad I saw the effectiveness of Civil Affairs for myself, when I spent several months living with a team of seven soldiers from the 425th CA Battalion in the al-Khadimiyah neighborhood in western Baghdad. Like 97 percent of the Army's Civil Affairs troops these men and women were reservists, part-time citizen soldiers, and like the banker-soldier who worked to revive Iraqi industries they brought a variety of nonmilitary skills to their mission.

Major Mark Clark, the team's commanding officer, for example: He was an ex-Special Forces soldier, but in civilian life he had headed up Bank of America's global teleconferencing system; predictably, he was a highly skilled executive, organizer, and motivator and was completely at ease working with non-Americans. Sergeant Robert Paul had spent three years in the Peace Corps in Kenya before working as an urban planner in Oregon, and Sergeant Adam Grundman was an ex-Navy Seabee: typical CA troops, with skills tailor-made for ground level nation-building.

This small group of soldiers, along with the "1/5 Cav" -- the 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division -- stationed in al-Khadimiya, did an amazing job of neighborhood-level aid work during their time there. Streets were cleared of trash, sewer lines repaired, soccer fields and playgrounds built; pocket parks were established at the historic Baghdad Gate and on the main traffic circles throughout the neighborhood. Most important, the American troops helped establish neighborhood councils and women's groups, and nurtured them as they became important parts of local life.

Specialist Kim Frier, one of two female members of "CAT-A 13" -- Civil Affairs Team #13, Alpha Company, the 425th CA Battalion (Reserve) -- worked with a group of highly motivated and idealistic Shi'a women from the neighborhood to get a women's center up and running, with political outreach committees, computer and craft courses, and guest speakers coming in to talk about everything from women's rights to child care to how to start up and manage small businesses.

As a result of all this, al-Khadimiya remained an island of calm when almost all the rest of Baghdad periodically went up in flames. At Banzai Patrol Base, the post shared by CAT-A 13 and the 1/5 Cav, our only serious outside threat came from mortars fired from the Wahabi enclave of Adhamiya across the Tigris River. Religious and neighborhood leaders in al-Khadimiya regularly informed US troops at Banzai about threats from outside terrorists and insurgents.

Given more support and funding -- currently there are less than 5,000 troops in the entire Civil Affairs/Psychological Operations command -- units like CAT-A 13 could be carrying out nation-building and peace-keeping across all of Iraq. CA's overall mission is turning enemies into friends, and it is a whole lot cheaper than fighting them: more important, it doesn't directly contradict the very reasons we gave for intervening in Iraq.

It also stands a very good chance of succeeding. At this point it is a solution well worth serious consideration.

Rob Schultheis spent six months with a US Army Civil Affairs team in Baghdad. His book on his experiences, "Waging Peace," will be published by Gotham Books in May 2005. 

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