If American combat forces are able to get out of Iraq next year and to leave behind a relatively stable country, it'll be thanks in part to Marblehead's John Dunlop. Whatever you think of the war itself -- and Dunlop doesn't talk politics -- the work he is doing to help revive Iraq and get its institutions working again is a noteworthy example of Massachusetts people making their mark on the world.
I met Dunlop while he was on home leave, and stayed in touch with him on his return to Baghdad, where among other things he attended the final round of a poetry competition he had helped facilitate. Here's a link to the full article in the Sunday Globe, and here are a couple of snapshots of the poetry competition final taken by Dunlop's translator, Dhafer al Makuter.
After graduating from St. John's Prep in Danvers, Dunlop went on to an extraordinary career of helping improve health care for children, mothers and those afflicted with AIDS and other diseases in some of the most bereft corners of the world. He has lived in the Central African Republic, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and southern Sudan, first for the Peace Corps and then for Catholic Relief Services and later the US Agency for International Development.
Last year he moved to Baghdad for USAID. He's been embedded at a forward base with a US Army brigade, working on community development projects in the Rashid district, in what was long one of the most violent sections of southern Baghdad, on the road to the Triangle of Death.
There are more than a dozen embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams, or ePRTs, in Iraq. They are part of the "surge" approved by President Bush in 2007 to try to to rescue the disastrous situation in Iraq, four years after the US invasion. Until then, the existing Provincial Reconstruction Teams were often confined to their bunkers, and lacked the flexibility and mobility to work effectively. The ePRTs, stationed with Marine and Army brigades at forward bases, were meant to be far more responsive and to integrate the civilian and military efforts more effectively.
For a critique of US post-war strategy, and a glimpse of the role of the ePRTs, check out the recent report by the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction, titled "Hard Lessons." It's a surprisingly readable assessment of the many failings of the post-war period, and the more recent success in reducing violence.
The civilian elements of the surge, including the expanded role of USAID, were far less controversial elements than the sharp increase in combat troop numbers. But the increased focus on improving governance and stability were core elements of the strategy envisioned by General David H. Petraeus, who was US commander in Iraq during the surge. He set the theoretical framework in his own counterinsurgency doctrine, written in 2006, promoting what he called "armed social work." Here's a link to that Field Manual 3-24.
Another useful source is the US Institute for Peace, the Congressionally funded agency which has studied the ePRTs.
For a clear-eyed look at the surge, its achievements and shortcomings, get hold of Washington Post military affairs reporter Thomas E. Ricks' new book, "The Gamble," which is winning as many plaudits as his first book on the war, "Fiasco." See excerpts from The Gamble in the Washington Post.
Finally, here are a couple more photos of John Dunlop in Baghdad.
About this blog
About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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