NATO improves Iraq’s civil-military ties

The end is near for ISIS in Iraq, but the enormous task of rebuilding cities that have been left in ruins by the militants is just beginning.

As millions of refugees look to return home, Iraq’s military and civilian ministries all have critical roles in keeping them safe and restoring basic services — food, water, electricity, sanitation, health care and more — damaged or destroyed during ISIS’s brutal rule.

In the capitals of every country, governments face difficulties in getting their bureaucracies to work in sync and not in silos. Baghdad is no exception. So the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is helping Iraq’s ministries work more closely together.

Dozens of senior managers from Iraq’s ministries of Water Resources, Electricity, Oil, Health, and Migration & Displacement and high-ranking military officers from Defense, Interior and the Counter-Terrorism Service have attended workshops NATO advisers put together to improve cooperation on stopping terrorism and managing crises.

Police officer with rifle walking past oil processing structure and flaming oil well (© Essam Al-Sudani/Reuters)
An Oil Ministry police officer patrols an oil field. (© Essam Al-Sudani/Reuters)

NATO once had a larger presence in Iraq, training 15,000 Iraqi officers during a mission that extended from 2004 to 2011. Today, under a partnership agreement, a small NATO team helps the Iraqi government meet challenges that range from mine removal to reforming the security sector to managing crises.

“In everything we do, we try to support and strengthen Iraqi institutions,” says Italian Brigadier General Pierfranco Tria, NATO’s military representative in Baghdad.

Civil-military cooperation is an intrinsic part of the culture of NATO, which is both a military and political alliance of 29 democracies. But Tria says the workshop wasn’t about imposing a pre-packaged NATO model. “At the end of the day it was an Iraqi-driven activity. We were just facilitating their interaction.”

Electric generator grid being checked by man (© Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)
A worker checks an electricity generator grid in Baghdad on September 13. (© Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

He was heartened when he noticed an Interior officer exchanging phone numbers with a counterpart from the Electricity ministry.

Iraqi Brigadier General Muhammad Khalaf Jassas, deputy director of civil affairs for the Defense Ministry, said in an email the workshop underscored the importance of working “as one team.”

That is happening now in liberated Mosul, where military commanders and civilian government officials are securing food for displaced families, repairing electricity lines, and opening police stations and public health centers. ”There is an increase in cooperation by everybody,” he said.

A Ministry of Water Resources participant said closer cooperation can save lives. He is optimistic that this relationship among the military and civilian ministries will endure “after the return of peace and order.”

Tria, the former commander of the cavalry branch of the Italian army, says civil-military collaboration is more a state of mind than a set of procedures.

After finishing a practice exercise one of the participants told Tria, “This is the same spirit needed to restore not just Mosul but indeed the whole of Iraq.”