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On August 1, CNN International carried a report that concluded progress on water and electricity projects is woefully inadequate because security costs eat up 33% of each contract. I don’t doubt security costs are steep, but that estimate is too high. Having prepared many proposals, I know the figure is probably half of that. But that is still too high.
One of the ironies of all our self-imposed delays is that the commencement and completion of projects will themselves help cut down the violence and the killing. These delays, therefore, cost more lives…both American and Iraqi. The reason for this is that people don’t visit death and destruction on work being done to rebuild their own communities. Early completion of Iraq reconstruction will markedly reduce the violence and help silence the insurgency.
On every proposal we submit, the standard reply to the question of how we will provide security is that it will be done by means of “community policing.” All security guards are hired from the community itself because none of the insurgents, many of whom are also local, will attack their friends and neighbors. We have had only one security issue on all the projects we have completed and, in that case, we shut down the job for a month and then went back and finished it.
To get proper security, you go to the local Sheik (a tribal leader) and tell him you are going to be working on the water and power networks to get everything working again. You say you need two things: workers and security people. After much negotiating and horse-trading, you agree on a price to pay the Sheik. He then provides all the security. He also provides all the skilled and unskilled workers. But the major intangible he provides is a guarantee that you will be allowed to work uninterrupted by work stoppages or vandalism. Once the work is complete, the community polices itself and keeps everything in working order. This system has worked very well in Iraq since time immemorial.
Many Iraqis I have spoken to say that during the first Gulf War, the U.S. inflicted far more damage on the infrastructure than we did this time. That was by design since we knew we would be occupying Iraq after this episode. And yet, the last time Saddam was able to get everything back to prewar levels or better less than two years after the end of hostilities. These same Iraqis are incredulous about this and ask: “Why can’t the Americans even get started within two years? Saddam had it all fixed in just over 18 months; and for all your $18 billion you are nowhere more than two years later!” And, as a parting remark he adds: “Saddam accomplished all this in spite of the U.N. embargo which, no matter how corruptly managed, certainly did not make it easier for Saddam to rebuild!”
Iraqis are increasingly angry over the water and electricity crises. It is obvious in their day-to-day outbursts of temper that they are a people at their wits end. And the sad truth is that if all the contracts were awarded tomorrow morning, it would be at least 18 months before even minor localized progress would be noted. It will be at least three years before there is significant wider-scale progress. And, since all the contracts are not going to be awarded tomorrow, it will be at least five years before things get back to some semblance of normalcy. And that assumes no extraordinary event interferes. In a region of the world where extraordinary events are the norm, this is a lot to expect.
THERE IS ANOTHER, AND VERY important factor at play here. Because the U.S. is such a technologically advanced country, more and more Iraqis are starting to express the view that the lack of progress is not an accident but a deliberate policy act. Incredible as this may sound, it is a view expressed by many Iraqis who are not willing to believe that the U.S. is unable to quell the insurgency, or to stop the infiltration of terrorists from Syria and Iran. Too many Iraqis to ignore are expressing the view that failure to rebuild and failure to quell the insurgency are intentional and deliberate!
Ask them for a rationale for this astounding assertion and the explanation is a very simple one. President Bush has said countless times to the American people: “The reason we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is so that we don’t have to fight the war on terror here at home.”
The Iraqis find it inconceivable that the Army and Marines and the U.S. Air Force can’t close the boundary between Syria and Iraq to prevent the torrent of armed insurgents from pouring over the border — perhaps by the thousands! They argue that the Air Force, which so quickly made mince-meat of Saddam’s forces, has hardly been seen at all in two years, and is used now only sporadically in the west of Iraq. And, they add very pointedly: “If you could easily and persuasively argue that it was important that Iraq be subdued, why not take similar steps with Syria. An air campaign of well coordinated attacks by B-1’s, F-15E’s, cruise missiles and other air assets on Syria, would hurt them badly enough that they would police the border themselves. There is no need to invade them.”
Then their argument goes on: “To effectively discourage the insurgents from coming across the border is to encourage them to go fight elsewhere; and that’s what you don’t want to do. You want them to fight in Iraq!”
Omar, a highly intelligent middle class businessman I know, says flat out: “It is your policy to keep the war in Iraq, so that you don’t have to fight it in Detroit or Chicago or Boston. And, in due course, when you tell us the Iraqi Army has been trained you will leave us, and the war will still be in Iraq. The only difference is that then we will only be killing each other.”
Omar goes on to say: “I don’t blame Bush for doing this. His job is to protect the Americans. That is what he was elected for. But what is so repulsive to us is that he is implementing this policy of deliberately keeping the war in Iraq so openly, and at such an appalling cost in Iraqi lives!”
Are these a bunch of conspiracy theorists run amok? Perhaps. But the fact of the matter is that it is not just Omar. Many Iraqis are starting to think this and talk about it. Adding to the consternation, is the fact the Constitution writers may turn out a document that gives the Islamic clerics and the Muslim religion a very powerful role in the country’s future. That would be a disaster; for us, the Iraqis, and for the rest of the world. The militant Islamists will then be able to take over the Middle East on their own time schedule. And, after the Middle East, who knows where they go next? The way is being paved for them by the millions of politically correct people in the West who fervently keep repeating that “Islam is a religion of peace.” Let’s be nice to them!
I THINK THE U.S. IS STARTING to run out of time to make things happen here. And, I am getting a very distinct feeling that the President is going “wobbly” on what was his most persuasive (even if unpalatable) issue. To wit: the war on terror is going to be a very long and very bitter fight.
Most of the talk from Washington is now about force reduction because it’s politically more acceptable. My opinion is that the Iraqi Army will be nowhere close to being ready to take over the defense of Iraq by 2006. We not only have to be ready to stay longer, but to increase our troop commitment. That may well have to entail some very tough decisions about the overall size of our military.
At the rate things are going here now, I suspect we have less than a year in which to perform. To be of any use, that year must be used to go on a crash program of actually rebuilding the infrastructure rather than talking about it. We need results! We have prattled away for over two years. We have produced enough proposals for fixing Iraq to fill a warehouse! If the Iraqis start to actually see progress, it is possible the insurgency will be defeated. If the Iraqis see nothing but more of the same, I’m afraid they are all too ready to go back into their Saddam-era cocoons and live there for another 25 years. We must remember that the Iraqis have not yet seen many of the purported benefits of democracy. They are still waiting! For them to revert to living as they used to would be easy. All they would have to be prepared to give up are life without electric power, without water, and car bombs on every street corner.
Water and electricity. Something better start to happen soon or it’s quite probable that all hell will break loose. And, God help us if the escalators at BIAP start carrying passengers before the average Iraqi has any power or water.
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