In the run-up to the November elections, Washington has lost the political stomach to rebuild Iraq. Iraqi hospitals are still without electricity, and the country needs technical help and international support. Both are available just down the road from the White House at the World Bank. The United States should call on the bank to take the lead in a broad-ranging reconstruction plan that can succeed where U.S. efforts to date have failed.
The United States should use the $10 billion to $12 billion not yet obligated to create an Iraq trust fund to be administered by the World Bank. The bank has cadres of experts in infrastructure, health care, education and economic planning who could prioritize projects and get them done. It has well-established international procurement rules, a tight anti-corruption code and a decent mechanism for ensuring financial accountability. It has a precedent for this structure in the loans it provides to countries too poor to repay them. And unlike the U.S. Agency for International Development, the bank has numerous technical experts who speak Arabic. All Arab countries are members of the World Bank.
At first blush it might seem far-fetched for the United States to relinquish control over Iraqi reconstruction. But the United States is the bank's single biggest shareholder, and, as such, it still can call most of the shots. Both President Bush and Democratic nominee John F. Kerry say they want more international participation in Iraq. This could be the way to do it.
The writer, an assistant secretary of commerce in the Clin- ton administration, teaches at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.