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Iraq: Amid Instability, U.S. Struggles To Chart Reconstruction

  • Jeffrey Donovan

Paul Bremer, America's chief civilian administrator in Iraq, has announced a series of key decisions regarding the country's reconstruction, some of which directly contradict U.S. decisions made recently. Do the new policies reflect a clearer direction for America's course in Iraq?

Washington, 25 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- If there's a euphemism to describe U.S. policy in postwar Iraq, it's flexibility. Important policy decisions affecting the nation's present and future are announced one day -- and then quickly jettisoned the next.

Perhaps the biggest about-face in postwar policy was the swift replacement of former Major General Jay Garner as chief U.S. civilian administrator in Baghdad with diplomat Paul Bremer after just a few weeks of U.S. occupation.

Analysts largely agree that in the weeks since Bremer's arrival, Iraq appears to have achieved greater stability, despite ongoing attacks against U.S. and British troops by forces believed to be loyal to deposed President Saddam Hussein.

Recently, Bremer announced a series of key decisions regarding the future of the Iraqi military, the establishment of a political council to assist in governing, and plans to share oil revenue and forgive the country's debt burden.

But analysts wonder whether those decisions reflect a new, more clearly charted course for U.S. policy in Iraq, or simply indicate Washington's apparent lack of direction on reconstruction.

Peter W. Singer is a foreign- and defense-policy expert with Washington's Brookings Institution. "It strikes me that they're slowly gathering towards a strategy. It's unfortunate that it took them that long to develop a strategy and that they've had sort of a stop-and-go posture, in some cases going against previous announcements," Singer told RFE/RL.

On 23 June, Washington again contradicted itself on a major policy issue. Bremer's office announced that Washington would help rebuild the Iraqi Army and financially assist former servicemen who are unable to get their jobs back.

That announcement came just days after two protesters were killed in a rally by thousands of Iraqi soldiers against a decision by Bremer's office to dissolve the Iraqi military and not financially assist nearly half a million former servicemen.

Bremer's new plan for the Iraqi military includes building and training a force of some 40,000 over the next three to four years.

Jim Phillips, an analyst with the conservative Heritage Foundation, acknowledges that not all has gone right for U.S. policy in postwar Iraq. "But I think since Ambassador Bremer has been put in charge, things are improving. It's a slow rate of improvement, but security is improving and electricity is coming back, although electricity has always been a problem in Baghdad, even under Saddam. But I think the U.S. is on the right track. It's just progressing very slowly," Phillips said.

In Jordan on 22 June, Bremer also floated plans for distributing some of Iraq's oil revenue to its people. Bremer told an economic forum that Iraqis need a social safety net to support them as the country makes the transition from a totalitarian socialist economy to a free-market democracy.

He said one option would pay Iraqis annual dividends based on the year's oil sales. Another option would be to use oil revenues to create a social-security system. Either way, he said, "every individual Iraqi would come to understand [that] his or her stake in the country's economic success was there to see."

Iraq exported its first oil since the war on 23 June as 1 million barrels of crude oil departed from the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

But Joseph Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters during a visit to Baghdad on 23 June that reconstruction costs will require billions of dollars beyond Iraqi oil revenues.

"I also don't think you can count on oil revenues to rebuild Iraq alone. The oil industry is in difficulty. We will not touch a penny of those revenues, but I don't believe there are sufficient revenues at the front end for the Iraqi people to do what the Iraqi people need done for them. That means that the international community, including the United States, will have to step into the breach and provide for that gap in funding, which will be in the billions of dollars," Biden said.

On the political front, Bremer appears for now to have scrapped previous plans for convening an Iraqi council to create a constitution.

Instead, he told the forum that he hopes a political council to help manage Iraq's affairs will be established next month. Bremer said his office intends to establish a council "representative of all strands of Iraqi society, which will have significant authority from the very first day." Bremer said the council will nominate ministry heads and form commissions to recommend policies on significant issues. He said these might range from reform of the educational curriculum, to plans for telecommunications infrastructure, to proposals to help the economy's private sector.

United Nations officials called yesterday for the creation of an Iraqi interim authority to help lead reconstruction efforts as representatives of some 50 countries discussed Iraqi reconstruction in New York. Meanwhile, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN's chief envoy to Iraq, told a news conference in Baghdad that it is "essential" to have Iraqis play a lead role in reconstruction.

"We are all here, including, in particular, the coalition that has the primary responsibility, as long as it is in charge, to create new, representative institutions in this country," Vieira de Mello said.

But despite progress, security remains elusive in Iraq. U.S. forces announce daily casualties in attacks by apparent Hussein loyalists, who they also blame for a series of recent strikes on gas pipelines that have contributed to blackouts in Baghdad and elsewhere.

In the bloodiest day against coalition forces since 23 March, Britain said yesterday that six of its troops were killed and eight wounded in two separate incidents in eastern Iraq. British Defense Minister Geoffrey Hoon said initial indications are the six were killed in an incident at a police station.

Biden and other U.S. senators visiting Baghdad urged the Bush administration to make it clear to the American people that reconstruction and occupation will take a lot of time and money. "We are going to be here [in Iraq] in a big way with forces and economic input for a minimum of three to five years," Biden said.

Republican Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senator Foreign Relations Committee, agreed with Biden's time assessment and urged the administration to quickly involve the international community in Iraq's reconstruction.