By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
The U.S. Agency for International Development paints a dire and detailed picture of the Iraq security situation in its request for contractors to bid on its $1.32 billion, 28-month project to help stabilize 10 major Iraqi cities.
The USAID program, outlined in a Jan. 2 paper, envisions development between 2006 and 2008 of partnerships in cities that make up more than half of Iraq's population. Those cities would include Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and Najaf. The project, which to date has only $30 million of the proposed funds, will try to reduce violence by creating jobs, revitalizing community infrastructure, and mitigating ethnic and religious conflicts.
To prepare potential bidders for the task, USAID included an annex with the contractor application. It describes Iraq as being in the midst of an insurgency whose tactics "include creating chaos in Iraq society as a whole and fomenting civil war." Many of the attacks are against coalition and Iraqi security forces, the annex says, and they "significantly damage the country's infrastructure and cause a tide of adverse economic and social effects that ripple across Iraq."
Although President Bush and senior administration officials tend to see the enemy primarily as Saddam Hussein loyalists and foreign terrorists, the USAID analysis also places emphasis on "internecine conflict," which includes "religious-sectarian, ethnic, tribal, criminal and politically based" violence.
The Sunni-vs.-Shiite violence goes back centuries. Today, the differences are being exploited on both sides as Sunni bombings of Shiite sites along with kidnappings and killings have been matched by Shiite retaliation and revenge killings of Sunnis.
"It is increasingly common for tribesmen to 'turn in' to the authorities enemies as insurgents, this as a form of tribal revenge," the paper says.
The activities of religious extremists against secular Iraqis were also noted by USAID. The paper describes how in the southern part of Iraq, which is dominated by Shiites, "social liberties have been curtailed dramatically by roving bands of self-appointed religious-moral police." In cities, women's dress codes are enforced and barbers who remove facial hair have been killed, and liquor stores and clubs have been bombed.
The USAID paper describes some findings that in the past were carried only in classified briefings, congressional sources said. For example, the paper states that external fighters and groups such as al Qaeda "are gaining in number and notoriety as significant actors," and that most suicide bombers are coming from "Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region."
The breakdown of Iraqi society and "the absence of state control and an effective police force" have let "criminal elements within Iraqi society have almost free rein," the paper states. Iraqi criminals in some cases "have aligned themselves with most of the combating groups and factions to further their aims" and Baghdad "is reportedly divided into zones controlled by organized criminal groups-clans," it states.
The USAID analysis also raises the potential for political parties to come into armed conflict, as the two main Kurdish parties did in the mid-1990s. "As political parties regain importance in the emerging democracy, there is an increased risk they may devolve into conflict groups," the paper warns.
Paul Pillar, the CIA's former national intelligence officer for the Middle East and now a visiting professor at Georgetown University, said the analysis conveyed "the reality that the violence in Iraq is complex and multi-faceted."
One weakness of the paper, Pillar said, is the underplaying of the "resentment of the foreign occupation." He said there are Iraqi "nationalists" beyond just the Sunnis who resent the presence of U.S. and other foreign troops. "There is a valid basis for some of the pro-withdrawal arguments," he said, referring to recent statements by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.).
In a news conference Friday with Pentagon reporters, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, the soon-to-be-retired commander of the coalition forces in Iraq, gave a mixed assessment of the USAID findings.
He said the insurgency is being carried out primarily by different Iraqi groups, some that feel they are disadvantaged under the new system and others that oppose the presence of the coalition. "Some Iraqis do view the coalition presence as a reason to conduct violence against them. That is without question," he said, but he would not characterize the size of that group.
He said he expects jihadists to keep trying to impose their views on those, such as the Sunni nationalists, who believe they are "not adequately represented" in the new government.
Differing with the USAID analysis, Vine said that Abu Musab Zarqawi's al Qaeda in Iraq group may be in "disarray," and that "indicators are that many of the events that we see are not related to al Qaeda in Iraq." He said some were done by former regime elements but that "in some cases they're related to people who conduct violent acts for pay."
Pillar, on the other hand, warns that the group, though foreign-led, "is largely Iraqi in membership" and represents a commingling of foreign and Iraqi religious extremists.