Mistakes Loom Large as Handover Nears
"When I step back, there's a lot left to be done," he said.
A 'Naive' Blueprint
Bremer said that when he arrived in Baghdad on May 12, 2003, he was shocked by what he saw.
Policemen were not at work. The capital's two antiquated power plants were barely running. Looted government buildings were smoldering. Prominent exiles who had returned with the intention of running the government were unwilling to share power with Iraqis who had lived under Hussein.
With no significant security threat to attenuate their ambition, Bremer and his staff set out trying to reconstruct Iraq from the bottom up, focusing on long-term solutions instead of short-term fixes. They announced that Iraqis would have to achieve a series of political milestones before the United States would return sovereignty.
Instead of reconstituting the Iraqi army, they decided to build a new defense force from scratch. Bremer directed his advisers to restructure government ministries. He advocated expansive free-market economic reforms. As a sign of the break with the past, Bremer issued an order banning many members of Hussein's Baath Party from participating in government.
Several current and former CPA officials contended that key decisions by Bremer favored a grandiose vision over Iraqi realities and reflected the perceived prerogatives of a military victor. Critics within the CPA also faulted Bremer for working to advance a conservative economic agenda of tax cuts and free trade instead of focusing on the delivery of basic services.
"There was this grand idea that we were going to turn Iraq into a model nation, a model democracy, with an ideal constitution and an ideal economy and an ideal military," said a State Department official who spent several months working for the CPA. "It was just naive."
Despite the scale of their plans, and Bremer's conclusion by last July that Iraq would need "several tens of billions of dollars" for reconstruction, CPA specialists had virtually no resources to fund projects on their own to create much-needed local employment in the months after the war. Instead, they relied on two U.S. firms, Halliburton Co. and Bechtel Corp., which were awarded large contracts to patch Iraq's infrastructure.
The CPA also lacked experienced staff. A few development specialists were recruited from the State Department and nongovernmental organizations. But most CPA hiring was done by the White House and Pentagon personnel offices, with posts going to people with connections to the Bush administration or the Republican Party. The job of reorganizing Baghdad's stock exchange, which has not reopened, was given in September to a 24-year-old who had sought a job at the White House. "It was loyalty over experience," a senior CPA official said.
By late summer, as car bombs rocked Baghdad and ambushes were on the rise, Bremer and his advisers decided to scale back their ambitions. Privatization plans were dropped. Instead of thorough screening and training for Iraqi police officers, military commanders were ordered to hire and arm as many officers as they could find. Faced with objections from Iraqi religious leaders and impatient local politicians, the White House and the CPA reversed course and promised to hand over power before a permanent constitution was written.
But Bremer remained committed to reconstruction. He went to Congress in September and pleaded for a massive aid package, arguing that rebuilding the country, an endeavor that could employ hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, would help to achieve long-term stability.
"The plan was to have Iraqis step up to protect and govern their country and leave it to the Americans to help them with reconstruction," the senior CPA official said. "It was great in theory. But in reality, it was untenable."
The Daura Power Plant in southern Baghdad was supposed to be a model of the U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq. Bombed in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and neglected by Hussein's government, the station could operate at no more than a quarter of its rated capacity, leading to prolonged blackouts in the capital.
After CPA specialists toured the decrepit facility last summer, they vowed to bring it back to life. German and Russian firms were hired to make repairs, and it was placed atop a list of priority projects intended to achieve a 6,000-megawatt goal for national electricity production. More power, Bremer hoped, would improve the economy and daily life enough to reduce violence and stabilize Iraq.
Today, the Daura plant is indeed a model -- of how the U.S. reconstruction effort has failed to meet its goals.
The German contractors fled for their safety in April. The Russians departed in late May, after two of their colleagues were shot to death by insurgents as they approached the plant in a minivan.
Inside the facility, parts are strewn on the floor, awaiting installation. Iraqi technicians in blue coveralls lounge around, smoking cigarettes and waiting for guidance. In the turbine room, graffiti on the wall reads: "Long Live the Resistance."
The CPA intended for the Daura plant to be producing more than 500 megawatts of power by June 1. But the best it can do at the moment is 100 megawatts -- half of its output of last summer.
"We were supposed to have improved," said Bashir Khallaf, the plant director. "But we have gotten worse."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company