2003 May 09 Friday
Order Still Slow In Returning To Post-War Iraq

Looting gangs in Baghdad have made their work into a daily routine

BAGHDAD, Iraq Ali Hussein and his three companions have turned looting into a 9-to-5 occupation. They rise each morning, hire a car and pick a target among the hundreds of burned out buildings in the capital.

The size of the military force needed to invade the country is smaller than what is needed to maintain order afterward.

Military commanders also have complained that although Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's desire to fight the war with smaller numbers of fast-moving troops may have been a wise battlefield strategy, it has left them with too few personnel to police a California-size country of 25 million people.

"Imagine spreading 150,000 soldiers in the state of California and then ask yourself, 'Could you secure all of California, all the time, with 150,000 soldiers?' " McKiernan said. "The answer is no. So we're focused on certain areas, on certain transportation networks we need to make sure are open."

That latter quote is from Lt. Gen. David McKiernan who is commander of all ground forces in Iraq. He's admitting that they do not have enough troops to protect the whole country.

The US led Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid in Iraq was given little time to prepare for their job.

Just weeks into its nation-rebuilding enterprise, ORHA is making it up as it goes along, cleaning up after a war conducted in lightning fashion in a country where the United States has had no official presence for more than a decade.

The man in charge of ORHA got the call to duty only in January, and he notes the contrast with a half-century ago, when the U.S. government took more than two years to prepare for the occupation of Germany.

It was clear by the summer of 2002 that the Bush Administration was more likely than not to invade Iraq. Why didn't they start preparations for post-war rule much earlier? Their handling of it has been incompetent and irresponsible.

International aid agencies have been afraid to start working in Iraq's third largest city of Mosul due to security concerns.

Until the Army team showed up Wednesday for a meeting in Irbil, the aid groups there weren't sure whom to call for information about needs in Mosul, said Hoshyar Siwaily, deputy minister of Humanitarian Aid and Cooperation, an arm of the Kurdish regional government in Irbil.

He said many outside of Mosul have been skeptical of the U.S. military's ability to keep the peace there. The city is the birthplace of Arab nationalism in Iraq, and is the traditional home of the Iraqi military's officer corps, he said.

Since Mosul and other cities in the northern part of Iraq have large Kurdish populations the cities that were not already part of the Kurdish self-rule zone could have been transitioned to safer conditions more rapdily if a large number of Kurdish police had been trained in the Kurdish self-rule zone before the war started. If some of the police had been recruited because of bilingual capabilities they would even have been able to provide policing in areas with a mix of Arab and Kurdish populations.

Writing in The Weekly Standard in an article entitled "Bad Reporting in Baghdad" Jonathan Foreman claims that most Western press coverage of conditions in Baghdad portrays conditions as far worse than they actually are.

But you won't see much of this on TV or read about it in the papers. To an amazing degree, the Baghdad-based press corps avoids writing about or filming the friendly dealings between U.S. forces here and the local population--most likely because to do so would require them to report the extravagant expressions of gratitude that accompany every such encounter. Instead you read story after story about the supposed fury of Baghdadis at the Americans for allowing the breakdown of law and order in their city.

Well, I've met hundreds of Iraqis as I accompanied army patrols all over the city during the past two weeks and I've never encountered any such fury (even in areas that were formerly controlled by the Marines, who as the premier warrior force were never expected to carry out peacekeeping or policing functions). There is understandable frustration about the continuing failure of the Americans to get the water supply and the electricity turned back on, though the ubiquity of generators indicates that the latter was always a problem. And there are appeals for more protection (difficult to provide with only 12,000 troops in a city of 6 million that has not been placed under strict martial law). But there is no fury.

Foreman argues that since most of the Iraqis are really not that mad at us we haven't done a bad job post-war. He says "the media have bizarrely high expectations about how quickly a conquered city should return to normal". Yet while some of the expectations were probably unrealistic I fail to see how it could not have been planned in advance that thousands of Military Police would have been available to enter Baghdad shortly following the soldiers. Did the US lack the logistical capability to have brought along ten or twenty thousand more soldiers? Did the US still lack that capability once the fighting at pretty much stopped? I have a hard time believing that.

Similarly, did the US lack the capacity to bring along some large electric power generators to use to get the water restored in Baghdad more quickly? Again I doubt it. A more likely explanation for the slow efforts to get water and electricity restored is that little planning work went into developing the ability to do so in advance of the start of the war. Jay Garner was given his job less than 3 months before the war started and had no time to develop and implement an elaborate post-war plan in advance of the outbreak of hostilities. While the Pentagon spent years planning an invasion of Iraq it is obvious that the Pentagon planning effort included very little in terms of how to rapidly get Iraq functioning again once the war ended. The poor post-war performance of the US military in Iraq is a demonstration of an arrogant and ultimately counterproductive "we don't do peacekeeping" attitude evident among many top US policymakers. This attitude is clearly not in the United States' best interest and undermines US attempts to transform Iraq into a secular democracy that will inspire the people in the other countries in the region.

On the bright side, the market is moving much faster than the US government.

The regulations could appear to be a footnote to the Baath Party's three-decade rule. But to the window-shoppers in towns across the country, the overnight appearance of once-outlawed goods like satellite dishes represents tangible proof that Iraq is emerging from its dark age. They may still be awaiting reliable drinking water and electricity, but they are starting to get their MTV.

Update: When you read reports of gasoline shortages in Baghdad keep in mind that there are unprecedented traffic jams in Baghdad.

Traffic is a good example of license taken too far. This city of 5 million people has broad boulevards and modern expressways, and in the past it rarely experienced traffic jams. Now they are epic. Hardly anyone has gone back to work, but they all seem to be driving around. One-way signs, stop lights, divided highways, the distinction between on-ramps and off-ramps, all are ignored at will.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 May 09 06:19 PM  Reconstruction and Reformation


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