BAGHDAD - Developing and building a sustainable infrastructure, recruiting and maintaining a professional police force, and encouraging civilian participation in the master plan for transforming Iraq is nothing if not a massive strategic effort.

However, Iraqi Army Maj. Gen. Ala'a Hussein Ali, the man who advises the Ministry of Interior on how to make that happen, is up to the task.

As Deputy Director of the MoI General Directorate for Planning and Tracking, Administration and Finance, Ala'a's confidence is based on years of experience as a civil engineer, the knowledge learned from the tough daily grind of working as an officer and engineer with the traffic police under Saddam Hussein's regime, and to the knowledge gleaned from a recent trip to California.

On a sweltering August day in central Baghdad, in the dim, always-under-renovation, erratically air-conditioned MoI high-rise, Ala'a's enthusiasm shone as he told visitors about an advanced level strategic planning course he attended in Monterey, Calif.

The first Iraqi to graduate from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, Defense Resource Management Institute, Senior International Defense Management Course, Ala'a described how senior government officials from 21 countries gathered to learn about strategic planning, threat assessment, and budget creation and execution from world renowned experts and each other.

The program, intended to develop ministerial capacity in integrated strategic planning and budget formulation, teaches senior leaders how to allocate resources to optimize the budget process and achieve national security objectives.

The right man for the job

Ala'a's professional development began with workshops the British Department organized for International Development and progressed under Iraq Training and Advisory Mission-MoI.

"Major General Ala'a quickly established himself as a leader by embracing new methods for strategic planning," said Col. Francis Holinaty, ITAM-MoI director of Financial Management and Contracting.

Ala'a facilitated the ministry's first three-year strategic plan, published in August 2009, and served as an MoI instructor for training events and subject matter expert for MoI Joint Review Committee forums. These accomplishments led to the ITAM-MoI advisory team to nominate him as the first Iraqi to attend the course.

This is a critical time for Iraq's ministries and it is essential, Holinaty said, that the ministry continues to integrate mission requirements with available resources to man, equip, train, maintain and sustain the Iraqi Police Forces to execute the ministry's security mission.

Sharing knowledge

The information attendees received and shared was invaluable, Ala'a said.

"We worked on how to put together a three-year plan specific to each country, linking budget with strategic goals, how to analyze threats and risks, and methods to deal with them, " Ala'a said.

He outlined Iraq's key strategic goals, for the next three years: provide security, improve capability, develop management skills, and encourage citizen participation. However, the key to achieving those goals creating and executing a budget.

"The instructors provided us with information to think and see from different sides," Ala'a said. "They taught us to take advantage of resources and evaluate risks.

"The greatest risk here in Iraq is terrorism. We discussed how to improve our work to minimize risk and how to use our resources to prevent terrorism. It is crucial that we improve the Iraqi Police capability," he said.

A proven method to expand police capacity is to increase their technical skills by providing weapons and training. Other strategies include empowering the police and civilian defense employees through training and building infrastructure. Key to this effort is building roads near international borders to enable patrols by Iraqi Security Forces.

"The strategic plan we developed at the course reflects the ministry's vision - Minister of Interior Jawad Kadhim al-Bolani supports our work," Ala'a said.

Making connections

The collegial relationships Ala'a built were as important as the knowledge he gained. He recalled his friendship with a Saudi Arabian officer, "We talked about many things, some of them Iraqi. We had long discussions about how terrorists destroyed our cultures and killed people."

He spoke of other newfound friends with whom he discovered common ground. "I became friends with a Czech officer," Ala'a said. "We had many interesting discussions and spent time together shopping for our families. I am in contact with these officers and others from the class."

But it was the Americans who most surprised him. "This visit changed my view of Americans -we see them on television, and that is very different from reality," he said.

Rather than the Hollywood stereotypes he expected, the Americans Ala'a interacted with were "very nice and quiet."

"We can build good friendships with Americans," Ala'a said. "Everyone I met wanted Iraq to improve."