BAGHDAD (Army News Service, Dec. 4, 2006) - A little more than two weeks into his own transition as the commanding general of the Multi-National Division - Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil, Jr. has already met twice with Iraqi provincial government leaders and is determined to continue to help move the process forward.

"All four provinces are coming along smoothly, making positive strides every day," Fil said. "The way ahead is transitioning to Provincial Iraqi Control (PIC) where they are in the lead in all aspects of running their government."

Coalition forces under Fil's control are assisting in this effort to establish local governance in the provinces of Najaf, Babil, Karbala and Baghdad.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams consisting of commanders and staff officers at every level of Fil's command help to move the process along and make Iraqi control a reality.

The Provincial Security Transition Assessment assists in the transition to PIC by providing an evaluation of current conditions and recommendations for the way ahead.

As the military's lead man in the PSTA process for the four provinces, Fil meets regularly with the governors of each to evaluate progress and discuss the way ahead.

Focused on all aspects of progress
Assessing progress throughout four Iraqi provinces is a huge undertaking, and the focus is wide-ranging.

"The security situation in the provinces is a primary concern," said Col. William Rabena, effects coordinator for MND-B. "Eventually, Iraqis will be entirely responsible for their own security, economic development, managing government programs, administration and infrastructure.

"It's the same thing any state governor would do back in America," Rabena added.

Rabena said the PSTA program evaluates progress in each of the provinces, based on criteria laid out from the Multi-National Force - Iraq.

"Maj. Gen. Fil makes recommendations on the means to keep the process moving forward to the military's top leadership and, ultimately, to the prime minister," Rabena said.

In every neighborhood
"It all starts with Soldiers on the streets," said Capt. Leo Prescott, an operations and plans officer with MND-B who works closely on the PSTA program. "That local presence patrol assists in maintaining security, but they also encourage Iraqi security forces to take an active role in the effort through face-to-face interaction."

Prescott said improving the security situation in every neighborhood is the number one priority for troops on the ground, and create the conditions where local government can operate to make improvements.

"We're partners in their future, ensuring their success and negating sectarian violence," he said. "We're encouraging the people of Iraq to cherish progress and denounce Muslim on Muslim violence."

At the local level, battalion and company commanders meet with Neighborhood Advisory Councils. The NACs consist of local politicians and governmental representatives focused on the same issues at the neighborhood level.

The goal, Prescott said, is to ensure Iraqi police, firemen, security forces and infrastructure program improvements are addressed, and implemented. It's here, Prescott noted, that a hand shake and a smile can mean more than any governmental edict.

"Our Soldiers on patrol talk with local leaders - local residents, scholars, hospital administrators, fire, police and ISF members," Prescott said. "There's an American flag on our shoulders, evident in each neighborhood, showing our commitment to the future of the Iraqi people."

District Advisory Councils
At the district level, local concerns are addressed and funding issues for improvement projects are discussed.

"Issues bubble up from the local level, to the district level, to provincial level and finally, the national level," said Maj. Craig Berryman, the deputy effects coordinator for MND-B. "The focus remains on improving daily living conditions - providing trash pick-up, a functional sewage system, fresh water and electricity. Infrastructure improvements continue to be made throughout the districts because of the cooperative efforts at local levels."

Berryman, on his second deployment to Iraq, said he's seen improvements in the Iraqi capital since the 1st Cavalry Division left in early 2005.

"When I'm out, I see a lot less trash than two years ago," Berryman said. "It's been cleaned up. I see a lot of new buildings in parts of Baghdad, and more cell phone and communication towers throughout the city. In some places, there's new pavement."

"These are all physical, concrete signs of improvement in the two years since this division was last here," he said.

Baghdad a focal point
"Baghdad is the center of gravity for the entire country," Fil said. "In many ways, as Baghdad goes, so goes Iraq."

Fil said the importance of the Iraqi capital to the future freedom of the Iraqi people cannot be over-valued.

"Baghdad is the cultural, social and economic center of the country," he continued. "It's a reflection of the Iraqi soul. It's why the coalition focused so much of its efforts here in the capital ... to give the people of Iraq a choice, a chance and a new future."

(Master Sgt. Dave Larsen writes for the 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs.)