June 19, 2004


As Handover Nears, U.S. Mistakes Loom Large: Harsh Realities Replaced High Ideals After Many Missed Opportunities (Rajiv Chandrasekaran, June 20, 2004, Washington Post)

Viewed from Baghdad since April 2003, the occupation has evolved from an optimistic partnership between Americans and Iraqis into a relationship riven by frustration and resentment. U.S. reconstruction specialists commonly complain of ungrateful Iraqis. Residents of a tough Baghdad neighborhood that welcomed U.S. forces with cold cans of orange soda last spring now jeer as military vehicles roll past. A few weeks ago, young men from the area danced atop a Humvee disabled by a roadside bomb, eventually torching it.

In many ways, the occupation appears to have transformed the occupier more than the occupied. Iraqis continue to endure blackouts, lengthy gas lines, rampant unemployment and the uncertain political future that began when U.S. tanks rolled into Baghdad. But American officials who once roamed the country to share their sense of mission with Iraqis now face such mortal danger that they are largely confined to compounds surrounded by concrete walls topped with razor wire. Iraqis who want to meet them must show two forms of identification and be searched three times.

The Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S. entity that has administered Iraq, cites many successes of its tenure. Nearly 2,500 schools have been repaired, 3 million children have been immunized, $5 million in loans have been distributed to small businesses and 8 million textbooks have been printed, according to the CPA. New banknotes have replaced currency with ousted president Saddam Hussein's picture. Local councils have been formed in every city and province. An interim national government promises to hold general elections next January.

But in many key quantifiable areas, the occupation has fallen far short of its goals.

The Iraqi army is one-third the size U.S. officials promised it would be by now. Seventy percent of police officers have not received training. When violence flared across the country this spring, many soldiers and policemen refused to perform their duties because U.S. forces failed to equip them, designate competent leaders and win trust among the ranks.

About 15,000 Iraqis have been hired to work on projects funded by $18.6 billion in U.S. aid, despite promises to use the money to employ at least 250,000 Iraqis by this month. At of the beginning of June, 80 percent of the aid package, approved by Congress last fall, remained unspent.

Electricity generation remains stuck at around 4,000 megawatts, resulting in less than nine hours of power a day to most Baghdad homes, despite pledges from U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer to increase production to 6,000 megawatts by June 1.

Iraq's emerging political system is also at odds with original U.S. goals. American officials scuttled plans to remain as the occupying power until Iraqis wrote a permanent constitution and held democratic elections. Instead, Bremer will leave the Iraqis with a temporary constitution, something he repeatedly promised not to do, and an interim government headed by a president who was not the Bush administration's preferred choice.

The CPA, which had 3,000 employees at its peak, will dissolve on June 30, the date designated to confer sovereignty to Iraq's interim government. U.S.-led military forces -- 138,000 U.S. troops and 23,000 from other nations -- will remain, free to conduct operations without the approval of the interim government. The management of reconstruction projects and other civilian tasks will be handled by a new U.S. embassy.

Over the course of the occupation, the relationship between the CPA and the military has become increasingly bitter. Soldiers have blamed civilians for not performing enough reconstruction to pacify the country, while civilians have blamed the military for not providing enough security to enable the rebuilding. In the view of several senior officials here, a shortage of U.S. troops allowed the security situation to spiral out of control last year. Attacks on U.S.-led forces and foreign civilians now average more than 40 a day, a threefold increase since January. Assassinations of Iraqi political leaders and debilitating sabotage of the country's oil and electricity infrastructure now occur routinely.

On the eve of its dissolution, the CPA has become a symbol of American failure in the eyes of most Iraqis. [...]

From the start of the occupation, the American effort to transform Iraq's political system was challenged by another Shiite leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a cleric far more established than Sadr. The CPA's inability to deal with him forced a series of compromises that will affect Iraq long after Bremer departs.

Sistani is a man in his seventies with a snowy beard who has lived in isolation for the past six years in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. With millions of followers, he is seen as the most influential leader of Iraq's Shiite majority, a man whom Shiite politicians do not want to cross.

Sistani's position was straightforward: Iraqis, not Americans, should determine the country's political future.

There'll be no end of dissections of the post-war and it seems unlikely there'll ever be much consensus on what might have been done differently--for instance, had the military been left generally intact there would have been just as much complaint that it wasn't de-Ba'athified as there is now that it was disbanded too hastily--but one large point that will have applicability elsewhere does seem to stand out: we treated Iraq as if it were similar to Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan--a nation where the totalitarian regime had been fairly popular and the society cohesive behind it--rather than like a Soviet satellite, where the government was oppressing a hostile population and had never managed to replace important countervailing institutions like the religious faith, practice, and clergy of the majority of the population.

If we look at things through this lens we can see that it would have been unthinkable for American troops to occupy Poland and dictate terms to its population in the late 80s/early 90s as Communism collapsed. Arguably our doing so might have eased the transition to democratic capitalism, but peoples are not to be treated in such a manner when they are not broadly implicated in the crimes of the previous regime. Thus, in Iraq, full sovereignty could (should?) have been handed over to especially the Kurds and the Shi'ite South far faster than it has been, even immediately. The Sunni Triangle is more problematic, bearing a greater resemblance to Japan and Germany, but one would think that it would have been at least somewhat easier to put down the resistance there had it been clear that the rapid return of sovereignty was our goal and had we had large co-operative and basically autonomous regions in the North and South supporting our efforts.

At any rate, if there is something to this analysis our failure does not appear to have been fatal and was obviously a product of good intentions. The important thing is to apply the lesson as we go forward, especially because the other regimes on our hit-list are so unpopular with their own people: Syria, N. Korea, Iran, etc. Regime change is a worthy goal in all these places but we should avoid becoming an occupying power, a situation where we in effect replace the prior despot with ourselves, continuing to deprive people of control over their lives and their nation's future. Letting them have that control may seem inefficient and will be sloppy--as the post-communist transition of Eastern Europe has been--but they'll get where they're going.

Iraq's Allawi Defends U.S. Strike That Killed 22 (Fadel Badran, 6/20/04, Reuters)

Iraq's prime minister on Sunday defended a U.S. air strike that killed 22 people in Falluja, but Iraqi officers in the town said the dead included women and children and no foreign Muslim militants.

"We know that a house which had been used by terrorists had been hit. We welcome this hit on terrorists anywhere in Iraq," interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi told a news conference.

He said the U.S. military had informed the government before carrying out Saturday's air strike on what it said was a safe house used by militants led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian described by the Americans as al Qaeda's leader in Iraq.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 19, 2004 8:07 PM

It seems pretty clear that there are two realities in Iraq (maybe more than two), and the strike on the house demonstates it.

On the one hand, it was an attack on bad guys who had been given up by some public-spirited citizen.

On the other hand, it was a brutal attack on a poor neighborhood, followed by a cynical second strike timed to kill the rescue party.

It probably matters which version represents popular opinion.

I expect No. 2 is prevalent.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 21, 2004 7:37 PM