Sunday, September 18, 2005

Deconstructing the reconstruction

Apparently, the Iraqi reconstruction isn't going all that well, at least not nearly as well as we are often led to believe by those who got the U.S. into this mess in the first place. The Times reports on developments in Najaf:

The United States has poured more than $200 million into reconstruction projects in this city, part of the $10 billion it has spent to rebuild Iraq. Najaf is widely cited by the military as one of the success stories in that effort, but American officers involved in the rebuilding say that reconstruction projects here, as elsewhere in the country, are hobbled by poor planning, corrupt contractors and a lack of continuity among the rotating coalition officers charged with overseeing the spending.

"This country is filled with projects that were never completed or were completed and have never been used," said a frustrated civil affairs officer who asked not to be identified because he had not been cleared to speak about the reconstruction.

Najaf would seem to be one of Iraq's most promising places to rebuild. As a Shiite holy place, it has few Sunnis and, as a result, none of the insurgent attacks and sabotage that plague other parts of the country. Just a year after fighting between American forces and Shiite militias left much of the city in smoking ruins, a new police force is patrolling the streets and security in the city has been handed over to Iraqis.

There are some successes. The Army Corps of Engineers has finished refurbishing several police and fire stations, one of which has shiny new fire engines donated by Japan. It is spending tens of thousands of dollars to refurbish crumbling schools and has replaced aging clay water pipes in the suburb of Kufa with more durable plastic ones. It is even spending half a million dollars to renovate the city's soccer stadium, putting in new lights and laying fresh sod.

But in a series of interviews, American military officers and Iraqi officials involved in the reconstruction described a pattern of failures and frustrations that Army officers who have worked in other parts of Iraq say are routine. Residents complain that the many of the city's critical needs remain unfulfilled and the Army concedes that many projects it has financed are far behind schedule. Officers with the American military say that corruption and poor oversight are largely to blame.

Let me be clear about something: I'm not happy about this. What's going on in Iraq, whether it's the reconstruction effort in particular or the occupation more generally, is not cause for celebration. And there is absolutely no good reason to hope the U.S. fails.

But, once again, there is good reason to doubt the commitment of the Bush Administration to doing what needs to done in Iraq. The jihadist insurgency continues to terrorize the country, killing Americans and Iraqis alike, but it seems to me that the best way to win this war would be to reconstruct Iraq properly. Ultimately, after all, U.S. forces will leave and Iraq will be turned over fully to the Iraqis themselves. What kind of country will they leave behind? One with the infrastructure needed to support progressive self-governance, or one that lacks the resources to hold off the extremist elements that would return it to a state of submission?

(Hat tip: War and Piece.)

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