Washington at War Back to the Green Zone

On Iraq, U.S. Turns to Onetime Dissenters

In 2003, Timothy Carney, right, and an American soldier displayed the cargo of a sport-utility vehicle: metal trunks containing just under $1 million in cash. The money was used to pay salaries at Iraq's ministries and government-run factories. Carney was in Iraq to run the Ministry of Industry and Minerals.
In 2003, Timothy Carney, right, and an American soldier displayed the cargo of a sport-utility vehicle: metal trunks containing just under $1 million in cash. The money was used to pay salaries at Iraq's ministries and government-run factories. Carney was in Iraq to run the Ministry of Industry and Minerals. (Ahmed Dabboush)

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By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 14, 2007

First of an occasional series

Timothy M. Carney went to Baghdad in April 2003 to run Iraq's Ministry of Industry and Minerals. Unlike many of his compatriots in the Green Zone, the rangy, retired American ambassador wasn't fazed by chaos. He'd been in Saigon during the Tet Offensive, Phnom Penh as it was falling to the Khmer Rouge and Mogadishu in the throes of Somalia's civil war. Once he received his Halliburton-issued Chevrolet Suburban, he disregarded security edicts and drove around Baghdad without a military escort. His mission, as he put it, "was to listen to the Iraqis and work with them."

He left after two months, disgusted and disillusioned. The U.S. occupation administration in Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), placed ideology over pragmatism, he believed. His boss, viceroy L. Paul Bremer, refused to pay for repairs needed to reopen many looted state-owned factories, even though they had employed tens of thousands of Iraqis. Carney spent his days screening workers for ties to the Baath Party.

"Planning was bad," he wrote in his diary on May 8, "but implementation is worse."

When he returned to Washington, he made little secret of his views. They were so scathing that his wife lost a government contract. He figured his days of working on Iraq were over.

Until a phone call on Tuesday.

David Satterfield, the State Department's Iraq coordinator, was on the line with a question: Would Carney be willing to go back to Baghdad as the overall coordinator of the American reconstruction effort?

The decision to send Carney back to Iraq -- and to abandon the policies that so rankled him in 2003 -- represents a fundamental shift in the Bush administration's approach to stabilizing the country. Desperate for new approaches to stifle the persistent Sunni insurgency and Shiite death squads that are jointly pushing the country toward an all-out civil war, the White House made a striking about-face last week, embracing strategies and people it once opposed or cast aside.

Indeed, Carney's rushed selection came just days after the administration announced two other key Baghdad appointments from among the ranks of dissenters in 2003: Ambassador designate Ryan Crocker and Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who will take over command of all coalition forces in Iraq.

Crocker, who spent the summer of 2003 helping to form Iraq's Governing Council, left the country frustrated with the CPA's reluctance to reach out to minority Sunnis. Even before the invasion, he wrote a blunt memo for then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell warning of the uncontrolled sectarian and ethnic tensions that would be released by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Petraeus, who spent 2003 commanding the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, grew dismayed by the heavy-handed tactics fellow military commanders were using to combat insurgents. He also opposed the methods by which Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army and fired Baathists from government jobs. And he chafed at the way reconstruction funds, personnel and decision-making were centralized in Baghdad. The CPA's policies, he said in 2004, should have been "tempered by reality."

It's a view the White House now seems to accept.


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