Team Coordinates Iraqi Communications Efforts

March 17, 2008
By Maryann Lawlor
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A coalition team of U.S. military and government experts is working with representatives from the Iraqi government to create a blueprint for the future of Iraq’s information and communications technology infrastructure. The Iraq Communications Coordination Element (ICCE) is helping Iraq identify gaps and opportunities in its current and planned initiatives and will assist in prioritizing, synchronizing and integrating efforts across the country. One goal is to move Iraq toward privatization and a governance structure for managing its telecommunications.

Coordination of Iraq’s telecommunications efforts could bear fruit in a number of areas where progress is currently lagging. In addition to supporting the command and control of the country’s military and first responder squads, reliable communications capabilities are viewed as crucial to Iraq’s security, governance, health, education and business sectors. In terms of coalition operations in Iraq, communications coordination and a single, comprehensive picture of capabilities in the country will boost available bandwidth, reduce reliance on expensive commercial satellite leasing and promote interoperability among military forces.

The ICCE team comprises a total of 10 full-time members derived from the government civilian and contractor sectors and from each of the U.S. armed services. Support also is coming from the NationalDefenseUniversity on an as-needed basis in the areas of policy and strategy based on work and studies it has done in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. The ICCE has put into place partnerships with the U.S. State Department as well as with Paul Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business transformation. In addition, the Iraqi minister of communications has agreed to assign an engineer and a member of the State Company for Internet Service to the team, and the minister of defense has agreed to participate. The ICCE is conducting the day-to-day work of managing the information and communications technology common operating picture; a senior steering group comprising Iraqi and U.S. representatives will meet quarterly to establish priorities, share ideas and maintain the team’s focus and momentum.

According to the director of the ICCE, Brig. Gen. Steven J. Spano, USAF, deputy chief of staff for communications and information systems, Multinational Force–Iraq (MNF-I), it is clear that before comprehensive strategies can be adopted, the Iraqi government needs basic services. “Our focus is on building small successes that lead to a broader end-state vision. We are literally talking micro projects, like getting reliable cross-border fiber or microwave connections to provide greater bandwidth, ease the pressure on satellite demands and costs, and provide a means of revenue for the Iraqi government,” Gen. Spano says.

The initiatives are not without challenges, the general allows. For example, since many of the activities that are under way have not been synchronized, getting what he calls the “ground truth” about the policies, services and infrastructure being implemented is not an easy task. Additionally, because a central process for tracking investments does not exist, determining where they are being made is difficult.

One of the first ICCE tasks is to establish relationships with the appropriate organizations so the team can be the authoritative source about policy, services and infrastructure activities. The ICCE will provide the organizations that influence the investment in and management of the country’s communications, programs and resources with a common understanding of objectives and awareness of the state of the infrastructure, policy and service delivery initiatives. “It will take a while to get to that stage, but when we do, we believe many benefits will emerge,” Gen. Spano states.

Goals of the ICCE team include helping to improve the delivery of communication services to the Iraqi public as well as supporting economic development and job creation. Having a team in place also increases the efficiency of teaching technical and managerial techniques to Iraqis, which improves the capabilities of staffs within the Ministry of Communications, the Iraq Telecommunications and Postal Company, and the State Company for Internet Services. Gen. Spano says that the ICCE will collaborate with its Iraqi counterparts throughout the process, which will progressively transition to an Iraqi-led process and structure.

“The key at the grand strategy level is that the [troop] surge is creating space, and the faster this space can be filled by hope and opportunity, the greater the odds that this space won’t be filled by violence and terrorist activities. Building information and communications technology capacity is one of the many key areas that offers great hope and opportunity for the Iraqi people,” Gen. Spano maintains.