‘Fables of Reconstruction’

In a new story out today among the alternative weeklies, “Fables of Reconstruction” shows that true believers are deeply worried about the future of Iraq and fear the spectre of civil war. The worries are laid out in a confidential memo written by “a U.S. government official detailed to the CPA, who wrote this summation of observations he’d made in the field for a senior CPA director.”
Some highlights:

…According to a closely held Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) memo written in early March, the reality isn’t so rosy. Iraq’s chances of seeing democracy succeed, according to the memo’s author—a U.S. government official detailed to the CPA, who wrote this summation of observations he’d made in the field for a senior CPA director—have been severely imperiled by a year’s worth of serious errors on the part of the Pentagon and the CPA, the U.S.-led multinational agency administering Iraq. Far from facilitating democracy and security, the memo’s author fears, U.S. efforts have created an environment rife with corruption and sectarianism likely to result in civil war.

“In retrospect,” the memo asserts, “both for political and organizational reasons, the decision to allow the Governing Council to pick 25 ministers did the greatest damage. Not only did we endorse nepotism, with men choosing their sons and brothers-in-law; but we also failed to use our prerogative to shape a system that would work … our failure to promote accountability has hurt us.”

While the memo offers an encouraging and appealing picture of thriving businesses and patrons on the streets of a free Baghdad, it notes that “the progress evident happens despite us rather than because of us,” and reports that “frequent explosions, many of which are not reported in the mainstream media, are a constant reminder of uncertainty.”

Asserting that the U.S. must “use our prerogative as an occupying power to signal that corruption will not be tolerated,” the CPA memo recommends taking action against at least four Iraqi ministers whose names have been redacted from the document. (Though there may be no connection, two weeks ago, Interior Minister Nuri Badran abruptly resigned, as did Governing Council member Iyad Allawi.) Also redacted is the name of a minister whose acceptance of “alleged kickbacks … should be especially serious for us, since he was one of two ministers who met the President and had his picture taken with him.” (Though the identity of the minister in question cannot be precisely determined, the only Iraqi ministers who have been photographed with President Bush are Iraqi public-works minister “Nesreen”:https://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000424.php#000424 “Berwari”:https://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/000647.php#000647 [sic] and electricity minister Ayhem al-Sammarai, on September 23, 2003.) “If such information gets buried on the desks of middle-level officials who do not want to make waves,” the memo warns, “the short-term gain will be replaced by long-term ill.”

I met and interviewed Nasreen Barwari when I was in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2002, and I’d hate to think of her taking kickbacks. My impression was one of competence and having the best of intentions for her people and her country. I hope a) that the allegations aren’t true and that b) if they are, it’s not Ms. Barwari.
Also surprising was the revelation that electricity is still spotty more than a year after the fall of Baghdad. Turbines at the Najibiya plant are “idle,” mainly because the spare parts have not been delivered by Bechtel. Why not? Because Bechtel was placing priority on “total reconstruction” instead of jerry-rigging plants well enough to get them working and because French, German and Russian companies — which built most of Iraq’s power plants — have been prevented from selling parts that could be used.
More problems include the 30-something armed militias still operating in Iraq and meddling by Iran, which is “pouring” money into the country, particularly in the British-controlled southern zone.
This memo illustrates that the wide-spread impression that American policy is coming apart at the seams in Iraq is likely true, despite the rosy proclamations. Also, all the letters from contractors and soldiers recounting tales of smiling children and Iraqis who love Americans are probably also true, but a combination of too-few troops, lack of post-war planning, cronyism, corruption and stubborn “staying the course” has led to an increasingly untenable situation in which the good will of the many is canceled by the violent determination of the few. The violence of April may be the new norm instead of an exception.
(Thanks to Atrios for the early tips on this story.)

2 Comments on “‘Fables of Reconstruction’”

  1. Memo author revealed?

    So who wrote the memo cited in the Jason Vest article I blogged about below? Remember the clues: ‘a US government official detailed to the CPA, who wrote this summation of field reporting for a senior CPA director…its author, a…