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Rebuilding Iraq


US pace on Iraq recovery criticized

Rumsfeld says postwar efforts will take time

By Elizabeth A. Neuffer and Bryan Bender, Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent, 4/27/03

BAGHDAD -- Day after day, an increasingly vocal Iraqi public is demanding that the United States apply the same skill and efficiency in building the peace that it used to defeat Saddam Hussein's army. But nearly three weeks after Baghdad fell, American control already appears to be fraying at the edges.

Anti-occupation demonstrations occur in the capital regularly. Looting and lawlessness have not been stamped out. And an array of new groups -- from Shi'ite clerics and self-appointed "mayors," to well-heeled exiles now back in the country -- have been jockeying for power.

Retired US general Jay Garner, who is overseeing the initial phases of the reconstruction effort, arrived last week bearing a plan that covers everything from picking up garbage to establishing a democratic government. The Pentagon's peace plan, like its war plan, relies on achieving specific targets and counting on the Iraqi people to fall in line and fill in the rest. It has specific measures of success -- providing humanitarian assistance; reconstructing roads, buildings, and power and water facilities; and establishing civil governance.

But Defense and State Department officials say it is impossible to predict all the challenges ahead, just as a military commander cannot predict the actions of the enemy. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, en route to the Persian Gulf region yesterday, said, "The task before us in Iraq will take a lot of focused attention over a period of time."

But in the two weeks between the regime's ouster and Garner's arrival, whatever hopes Iraqis had that the United States would swiftly produce a better Iraq seem to have ebbed.

"Up to now, no government has been declared, the electricity is out, there is still shooting on the streets," said Wamid Nadhmi, a professor of political science at the University of Baghdad and critic of Hussein's regime. "This gives a bad picture of either a complete lack of knowledge, disorganization, or deliberate occupation, with humiliation. They won the war, but I have serious doubts they will win the peace."

Some critics in Washington say that if the Pentagon had spent as much time planning for the period after hostilities as it did for the fighting, it would be in a much better position. The postwar planning began in late January. By then, the war planning had been underway for at least 10 months.

"The easy part was the military campaign," said Andrew Krepinevich, director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington. "The hard part is stabilizing the country sufficiently. It is not quite clear we were ready to `shock and awe' the Iraqi people with the speed and precision of the stability operations as we were the war operations."

On the ground, US forces are caught between the reality of the tough task at hand and the immediate needs of Iraqis, 60 percent of whom received government handouts under the former regime.

Garner has his headquarters in the Republican Palace, one of Hussein's vast, ornate compounds. That the US Army is occupying the same palaces as Hussein, and that US military bureaucracy seems nearly as maddening as that of the former Iraqi Ba'ath Party, is an irony not lost on most Iraqis, who have lined up by the hundreds outside the palace searching for help.

"You keep me waiting for hours and you tell me to come back tomorrow!" Adal al-Azawi, from Baghdad's Arabic Hospital, yelled at a US Army captain as she sought in vain for entry to a park to collect remains of relatives whose bodies had been hastily buried there.

"The Americans can drop tons of expensive bombs, but they can't assist us with food and water?" said another Baghdadi, Emad Aladin al-Janabi, 45.

Garner raised Iraqi expectations shortly after his arrival by saying government institutions would begin operating again in one week, only to have Rumsfeld correct him a day later, saying meetings would be held but there was no timeline for reestablishing operations at Iraq's government ministries. To boost that effort, the Pentagon is sending to Baghdad teams of Iraqi exiles to work in the agencies, defense officials said.

Doubts about US intentions, combined with the chaos that still grips the capital, proved fertile ground for those here seeking to seize power. Among them are some of the city's Shi'ite clerics, who began organizing neighborhoods politically by pulling together committees that did everything from cleaning streets to urging people to return stolen goods. Many of the clerics wasted no time in calling on Americans to leave the country soon.

A State Department official said that in hindsight it was not possible to predict the reaction of the country's Shi'ite majority, which had been governed by Hussein's Sunni-led Ba'ath Party for decades. Some Shi'ite groups rose up against Hussein after the 1991 Gulf War, only to be brutally repressed.

"For 12 years, they were existing suppressed within a Sunni reality," the State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They wouldn't have wanted the Sunnis to know who their leaders were, especially after the early '90s wipeout, when Saddam executed so many of their leaders."

Another who has taken advantage of the void is Mohammed al-Zubaidi, a longtime Iraqi exile who proclaimed himself the mayor of Baghdad after wooing support from key civil servants and the heads of Iraqi tribes. At a time when Garner was not present in Baghdad, Zubaidi and his aides organized committees to address the city's needs.

Then he began touring the government ministries and offering assistance. At the Ministry of Irrigation, Zubaidi provided walkie-talkies for employees manning the dams, a key assignment in spring.

"We are just waiting for instructions, and this is the man who appeared and gave us instructions," said Nihad Merza, 56, deputy director general of administration at the ministry.

Few in Baghdad even recognize Garner's name. Many who do bridle at the irony of his appointment.

Garner, a man who talks of the need to bring democracy to Iraq, they say, was most definitely not chosen by the Iraqi people. "He wasn't elected by the people," said Alia al Obaidi, director of a telephone and television exchange in Baghdad. "The Americans forced us to be under his supervision."

The Pentagon acknowledges it doesn't have enough civil affairs and other post-conflict personnel in the country to supervise everything, which leaves some asking why more specially trained soldiers were not on standby to come into Iraq after hostilities started to wind down. The military has deployed an estimated 2,000 civil affairs soldiers to Iraq to help in the reconstruction, but officials said they need more and they're getting them.

"We have the additional forces we need . . . flowing in now," Lieutenant General David McKiernan, land forces commander for US Central Command, told reporters last week. "We are bringing in additional military police."

US soldiers have helped hire 600 new Baghdad police officers and advised them in picking a new police chief. Plans for new uniforms are on the drafting board, said Major Toney Coleman, of the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion, supporting the Army's Third Infantry Division.

"We're working hand in hand with the police force to come back in and to establish that part of the triumvirate that you need to have of security, stability, and economic growth for a nation to prosper," said Lieutenant General Earl Hailston, head of Marine forces for US Central Command.

But such plans to increase security come after weeks of looting that have left Iraqis fearful and angry.

According to Krepinevich, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, providing immediate security should have been a higher priority. "There were a number of ways we were surprised . . . and yet we don't seem to have been able to adapt to them very quickly," he said. "It raises questions about how well prepared we were to exploit the military victory."

But US officials say neither the Iraqis nor the American public should expect miracles.

"There aren't enough soldiers or Marines to guard every street corner and every facility," McKiernan said.

In public, Bush administration officials shy away from giving estimates of how many US and allied troops it will take to stabilize Iraq and how long they will remain in the country. But privately, they are beginning to talk about a postwar effort that will last years -- perhaps five or more, experts say.

With more than $2.3 billion in humanitarian assistance and other aid flowing in from countries around the world, and some nations lining up to provide peacekeeping forces, US officials say they are building a strong foundation for peace.

But "the US needs to ensure the sustainability of its own effort, which will be expensive and lengthier than currently anticipated," according to a report by the US Institute of Peace, a Washington think tank staffed largely by former government officials. "Iraq may quickly fade from the headlines, but the support of the American people will be required if adequate resources over a period of years are to be found. The US should expect to be engaged in supporting the institutions that allow for nonviolent political expression and participation for five years or more."

Support of the Iraqis could fade quicker: "We are in a race against time because there are other missions for US forces and you don't want to overstay your welcome," Krepinevich said.

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