Mistakes Loom Large as Handover Nears
The failure to fix Daura and other plants, coupled with sabotage attacks on power lines, have renewed the debilitating blackouts that plagued Iraq last summer. The situation is not much better for other services. Attempts to fix water-treatment plants and oil refineries also are far behind schedule, forcing the country -- which has the world's second-largest oil reserves and two large rivers -- to import gasoline and bottled water. Recent attacks on fuel convoys and pipelines have depleted stockpiles, resulting in lengthy gas lines.
Several CPA officials said the Bush administration has long underestimated reconstruction costs. In its war planning, the administration devoted $900 million to reconstruction despite reporting by the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations that depicted a far greater need. In the first months of the occupation, an additional $1.1 billion was committed by the White House. It was not until September that the administration asked Congress for billions more.
Although the $18.6 billion reconstruction aid package was approved by Congress in November, the Pentagon office charged with spending it has moved slowly. About $3.7 billion of this package had been spent by June 1, according to the CPA. Many projects that have received funding have slowed or stopped entirely because Western firms have withdrawn employees from Iraq in response to attacks on civilian contractors.
CPA officials contend the money should have been earmarked and spent far sooner. Had that happened, they argue, the CPA could have retained much of the goodwill that existed among Iraqis after the U.S. invasion and possibly weakened the insurgency.
"The failure to get the reconstruction effort launched early will be regarded as the most important critical failure," said one of Bremer's senior advisers. "If we could have fixed things faster, the situation would be very different today."
By starting late, the adviser said, the CPA got "caught in a security trap." More than $2 billion of the aid package will be spent hiring private guards for contractors, buying them armored vehicles and building secure housing compounds, CPA officials estimate. "If we had spent this money sooner, before things got bad, we could have spent more of it on actually helping the Iraqi people," the adviser said.
Because many of the 2,300 projects to be funded by the $18.6 billion are large construction endeavors that will involve foreign laborers instead of Iraqis, they will result in far less of a local economic boost than the CPA had promised, another senior official involved in the reconstruction said. The projects were chosen largely without input from Iraqis.
"This was supposed to be our big effort to help them -- 18 billion of our tax dollars to fix their country," the senior reconstruction official said. "But the sad reality is that this program won't have a lot of impact in it for the Iraqis. The primary beneficiaries will be American companies."
When anti-occupation militiamen converged on the Rafidain police station on April 4, officers inside the blue-walled building sprang into action.
They grabbed their possessions and ran home.
The militiamen were members of the Mahdi Army, an untrained but well-armed force inspired by Moqtada Sadr, a firebrand Shiite Muslim cleric deemed an outlaw by the U.S. military. Incensed that U.S. troops had shut down his newspaper and arrested one of his top deputies the day before, Sadr's followers seized government buildings in Shiite holy cities south of Baghdad and in Sadr City, a Shiite slum in the capital.
The militiamen met surprisingly little resistance. Rafidain, in central Sadr City, was no exception.
"To shoot those people would have been wrong," said Sgt. Falah Hassan, a lanky veteran whose uniform consists of rolled-up jeans and a rumpled blue shirt. "If a man comes with principles and I believe in those principles, I will not shoot him."
The collapse of police and civil defense units in the face of the Sadr offensive stunned CPA officials, who had expected them to put up a fight. A few days later, the CPA was surprised again when a battalion of Iraq's new army mutinied rather than obey orders to help U.S. Marines fight Sunni Muslim insurgents in the streets of Fallujah.
Bremer and senior CPA officials concluded that the creation of new Iraqi security forces was in trouble. The decision to hire back as many former policemen as possible, even without training, had been meant to reassure Iraqis by putting more officers on the street. But it also put thousands of ill-prepared men, some with ties to the insurgency, into uniform -- a problem that the CPA long feared but did not fully grasp until the Sadr rebellion.
"Quantity overrode quality," said Douglas Brand, a British police commander who has served as a senior CPA adviser to the Iraqi police force. "We scooped up a whole lot of people who didn't meet our criteria and put them into the police force."
Of nearly 90,000 police on duty now, more than 62,000 still have not received any training.
But Iraqi political leaders and several CPA officials contend that the problems with security were more fundamental than training police. The U.S. military came to Iraq with too few soldiers to maintain order and guard the country's borders against foreign terrorists, they said. "I don't know anyone who thinks there's enough troops here," the senior adviser to Bremer said.
These officials said the troop shortage was compounded by the decision to disband the Iraqi army. Not only did it deprive the U.S. military of tens of thousands of armed and uniformed men to help restore order, but scores of unemployed soldiers joined the ranks of insurgents fighting the occupation forces.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company