Mistakes Loom Large as Handover Nears
Although some in the CPA say they believe it is better to let Iraqis resolve the dispute over the interim constitution after June 30, others argue that the occupation authority should have ensured it had a document supported by Sistani.
"We were supposed to leave them with a permanent constitution," a senior CPA official said. "Then we decided to leave them with a temporary constitution. Now we're leaving them with a temporary constitution that the majority dislikes."
Out of Touch
Life inside the high-security Green Zone -- what some CPA staffers jokingly call the Emerald City -- bears little resemblance to that in the rest of Baghdad. The power is always on. Shiny shuttle buses zip passengers around. Outdoor cafes stay open late into the night.
There is little effort to comply with Islamic traditions. Beer flows freely at restaurants. Women walk around in shorts. Bacon cheeseburgers are on the CPA's lunch menu.
"It's like a different planet," said an Iraqi American who has a senior position in the CPA and lives in the Green Zone but regularly ventures out to see relatives. "It's cut off from the real Iraq."
Because the earth-toned GMC Suburbans used by CPA personnel and foreign contractors have become a favored target of insurgents, traveling outside the Green Zone -- into the Red Zone that defines the rest of Iraq -- requires armored vehicles and armed escorts, which are limited to senior officials. Lower-ranking employees must either remain within the compound or sneak out without a security detail.
Although the CPA has tried to bring Iraqis into the CPA headquarters for meetings and other events -- there has even been an "Iraqi Culture Night" in the Green Zone -- the inability to mingle with Iraqis has isolated the Americans. "We don't know the outside," the senior adviser to Bremer said. "How many of us have gone out to buy a bottle of milk or a pair of socks?"
Instead of building contacts at social events in the city, CIA operatives in Baghdad drink in their own rattan-furnished bar in the Green Zone. Instead of prowling local markets, CPA employees go to the Green Zone Shopping Bazaar, where the most popular items are Saddam Hussein memorabilia.
Limited contact with Iraqis outside the Green Zone has made CPA officials reliant on the views of those chosen by Bremer to serve on the Governing Council. When Brahimi, the U.N. envoy, asked the CPA for details about several Iraqis he was considering for positions in the interim government, he told associates he was "shocked to find how little information they really had," according to an official who was present.
The CPA official who got around the most was Bremer, who travels with an entourage of private guards, most of them former Navy SEALs, equipped with helicopters and a fleet of armored vehicles.
Bremer's willingness to travel and to work 18-hour days has won him respect within the CPA. The chief criticism of his tenure within the former Hussein palace that serves as CPA headquarters was that he failed to recruit enough seasoned diplomats with experience in the Middle East.
In the final days of the CPA, many officials have succumbed to bitterness. Some blame military commanders for not asking for more troops to stabilize the country. "They had enough soldiers to ensure that Saddam's men didn't come back to power, but there were nowhere near enough to make the country safe enough for us to do our work," a CPA reconstruction specialist said.
Military officials say CPA personnel spend too much time in the 258-room headquarters. "Nobody has any idea what they do back in that palace," a senior Marine commander in Fallujah said recently. "We certainly don't see any results."
Several veterans of other reconstruction operations characterized civilian-military relations in Iraq as the worst they have encountered. "It has been poisonous," the reconstruction specialist said.
The other major conflict within the occupation bureaucracy has set the legions of young staff members chosen for their loyalty to the Bush administration against older, more liberal diplomats from the State Department and the British Foreign Office. Several of the diplomats said they regarded the young staffers as inexperienced and eager to pad their résumés during three-month tours.
These diplomats singled out the Office of Strategic Communications as unsuccessful in its efforts to disseminate information to Iraqis. Instead of creating an all-news television station that would compete with other Arab broadcasters that the CPA deemed anti-occupation, the communications office, with several employees straight from Republican staff jobs on Capitol Hill, set up a channel that aired children's programs and Egyptian cooking shows.
"It didn't put any effort into communicating with the Iraqi people," a British CPA official said. "Stratcom viewed its job as helping Bush to win his next election."
Even within the communications office, there is a sense that the occupation has not gone as well as everyone hoped. "It's a time of introspection," one press officer said.
Elsewhere in the palace, the sense of regret is far more pronounced. The senior adviser to Bremer said he felt "a sense of opportunity that slipped away."
"The ambition for us was a grand one. We had great things in mind for them. We believed we could do it," he said. "But we didn't keep our promises."
NEXT: Learning the hard way
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