May 11, 2003

Iraq Reconstruction Status Report A

Iraq Reconstruction Status Report

A few days back I linked to a couple stories on the status of the Iraq reconstruction effort. Today I find this excellent primer. Key sections:

"Was the United States prepared for the problems of postwar Iraq?

Some U.S. officials have admitted that the postwar situation is more unstable than they expected. Garner told the Washington Post May 4, “We didn’t anticipate the looting to occur to the degree it did [occur]. I personally anticipated a huge number of soldiers surrendering. I was going to hire 100,000 Iraqi soldiers to reconstruct Iraq. They either died or evaporated. The operation didn’t unfold as planned. We’re making readjustments.”

Have the looting and lawlessness dissipated?

To a degree. But observers on the ground say there is not enough coalition manpower to enforce order—12,000 U.S. troops are assigned to watch over Baghdad’s 5 million residents—and a variety of local groups are rising up to fill the power vacuum. The Wall Street Journal summed up the situation on the ground in Iraq on May 3 as follows: “In the three weeks since U.S. forces seized control of Iraq’s key cities, the grass-roots power seizure has been profound. In towns and cities across this California-size country, clerics and sheiks have proclaimed themselves mayors and councilmen. Others have taken control of schools, clinics and government offices. Religious leaders have started to adjudicate disputes and sentence offenders. Some have formed armed militias.”

That's the key point. Who are the grass-roots actors seizing power? Are we aware of all the myriad factions sprouting up in areas where we don't have heavy troop concentrations?

I argued many months back that we would need some kind of benign MacArthur with lots of troops under his command to help create a viable, democratic Iraq that retained its territorial integrity. Unlike the hopes of overly optimistic Pentagon types--we were never going to just airlift Ahmed Chalabi into the Hunt Club outside of Baghdad and have legions of Iraqis bow down to him because he had an MIT degree and could hobnob about the Potomac with bonhomie and panache. Not when the very Shi'a whom Chalabi is supposed to derive support from are guys like this:

An excerpt: Mudher al-Husseini, a youthful follower of Sadr's, approached his leader and asked permission to read a new poem. Sadr agreed. The poem, written by a well-known local Shiite poet named Majid al-Auqabi, was titled, ''Let Allah Forgive the Past.''

Its rhyme is lost in translation, but not its meaning.

''Saddam forced us to eat cattle feed,'' Husseini began. ''But today is the day to shout. The dollar is seducing us, but it is better to be a martyr than to take the dollar. Coalition treads have trampled the people. We don't want a ruler from them; we want our own ruler. We don't want to be cheated again.''

"Husseini spoke loudly and emotionally; the hand with which he held the poem shook, and his other hand, wrapped in a fist, punched the warm air. An elderly man sitting next to him began to weep; so did others."


"The killings also appear to have led the Americans to abandon, for now, their attempt to play a role in Najaf; during the three days I was there, I never saw American troops patrolling the streets or even driving through them. The town appears to be a no-go area for them, just as Saddam City, now Sadr City, in Baghdad, is devoid of any significant American presence. The Americans would appear to have no idea what is happening in these places, and no control over them."

No, this is a long run effort, probably involving significant U.S. troops (and British, Polish among others) for at least two years. The post-war part was always going to be harder than the war folks.

Nation-building, even in relatively secularized post-WWII Europe, wasn't a breeze. And this certainly won't be either--if we mean to do the job right. For one, that means that we have to be in places like Najaf. Not spouting on about "democracy, whiskey and sexy" either but searching for moderate clerics who will join a federated government and lead to inhabitants of more conservative Shi'a regions believing they have real representation in Baghdad. All this is possible, mind you, but let's sober up post-victory and focus on the difficult task ahead.

Posted by Gregory at May 11, 2003 06:22 PM
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