The Foreign Service Journal, September 2009

F O C U S O N D I P L OM AT S I N C O N F L I C T Z O N E S I NTERAGENCY C OOPERATION : T HE JIATF IN I RAQ 28 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / S E P T E M B E R 2 0 0 9 idden in a classi- fied Strategic Operations Center deep inside Baghdad’s Republican Palace, the Joint Interagency Task Force staff strategized to counter an enemy they would never meet. Overhead, TV screens displayed live video feeds of situa- tions on the ground, surveilled by unmanned Predator air- craft miles away. OPSEC [Operational Security] screen- savers reminded users that “The Threat Is Out There — Remain Vigilant” and “In Order to Set the Trap, the Enemy Needs to Know Where the Vulnerability Is — Protect Your Vulnerabilities.” Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Pe- traeus agreed in April 2008 to create the JIATF to counter complex, interrelated strategic threats in Iraq. Initially a targeting cell to capture or kill “bad guys,” the arrival of fulltime representatives from USAID, the State Depart- ment, the Department of Energy and the Department of Homeland Security allowed the Joint InterAgency Task Force to morph into a hybrid group that — for the first time in Iraq — brought together all elements of the U.S. government into a “smart power” planning team to bal- ance the top two threats to Iraq’s stability: al-Qaida’s op- erations in Iraq, and Iran. Similar organizations exist elsewhere. For the past 20 years, JIATF-South has integrated military and civilian counternarcotics operations in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Pacific. JIATF-S is credited with disrupting hundreds of metric tons of cocaine ship- ments each year, and has been called “the epitome of in- teragency cooperation.” Similarly, JIATF-West has de- tected, disrupted and dismantled drug-related transna- tional threats in Asia and the Pacific since 1989, by pro- viding interagency intelligence fusion, supporting U.S. law enforcement and developing partner-nation capacity. However, JIATF-I is different from these earlier units because of the urgent and complex nature of the threats to Iraq’s stability, as well as the level of attention that the United States demonstrated by staffing it from an un- precedentedly wide range of civilian agencies to comple- ment the substantial military cadre. Interagency Cooperation: A Brief History The U.S. government had not always taken a holistic approach to solving strategic problems in Iraq. Indeed, with a thousand staff members in Embassy Baghdad, an additional 500 or so on the Provincial Reconstruction T HE EXPERIENCE OF THE J OINT I NTERAGENCY T ASK F ORCE IN I RAQ OFFERS RICH INSIGHTS INTO EFFECTIVE STRATEGIC COOPERATION . . B Y R OBERT M. B IRKENES H Robert M. Birkenes is the U.S. Agency for International De- velopment representative to the Joint Interagency Task Force in Iraq. A career FSO since 2000, he has served pre- viously with USAID in Russia, Kazakhstan, Egypt and Ja- maica.