PROMISES UNKEPT : The U.S. Occupation of Iraq
Mistakes Loom Large as Handover Nears
Missed Opportunities Turned High Ideals to Harsh Realities
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 20, 2004; Page A01
First of three articles
BAGHDAD -- The American occupation of Iraq will formally end this month having failed to fulfill many of its goals and stated promises intended to transform the country into a stable democracy, according to a detailed examination drawing upon interviews with senior U.S. and Iraqi officials and internal documents of the occupation authority.
The ambitious, 15-month undertaking stumbled because of a series of mistakes that began with an inadequate commitment of resources and was aggravated by a misunderstanding of Iraqi politics, religion and society in occupied Iraq, these participants said.
"We blatantly failed to get it right," said Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution who served as an adviser to the occupation authority. "When you look at the record, it's impossible to escape the conclusion that we squandered an unprecedented opportunity."
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 who 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 come 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 has 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 had 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 with 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 on 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 rebuilding the country quickly enough 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. In a recent poll sponsored by the U.S. government, 85 percent of respondents said they lacked confidence in the CPA. The criticism is echoed by some Americans working in the occupation. They fault CPA staffers who were fervent backers of the invasion and of the Bush administration, but who lacked reconstruction skills and Middle East experience. Only a handful spoke Arabic.
Within the marble-walled palace of the CPA's headquarters inside Baghdad's protected Green Zone, there is an aching sense of a mission unaccomplished. "Did we really do what we needed to do? What we promised to do?" a senior CPA official said. "Nobody here believes that."
This account is drawn from interviews with a score of current and former CPA officials, several in senior positions, other U.S. government officials and Iraqis who work with the CPA. Most spoke on the condition they not be identified by name because of rules barring people working for the CPA from speaking to journalists without approval from CPA public affairs officials.
In an interview last week, Bremer maintained that "Iraq has been fundamentally changed for the better" by the occupation. The CPA, he said, has put Iraq on a path toward a democratic government and an open economy after more than three decades of a brutal socialist dictatorship. Among his biggest accomplishments, he said, were the lowering of Iraq's tax rate, the liberalization of foreign-investment laws and the reduction of import duties.
Bremer acknowledged he was not able to make all the changes to Iraq's political system and economy that he had envisioned, including the privatization of state-run industries. He lamented missing his goal for electricity production and the effects of the violence. In perhaps the most candid self-criticism of his tenure, he said the CPA erred in the training of Iraqi security forces by "placing too much emphasis on numbers" instead of the quality of recruits.
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