Magazine article National Defense

Iraq Reconstruction: U.S. Takes Step Back, Revisits Rebuilding Plans

Magazine article National Defense

Iraq Reconstruction: U.S. Takes Step Back, Revisits Rebuilding Plans

Article excerpt

To recover from serious setbacks in its reconstruction plans for Iraq--caused by growing violence and slow infusion of assistance money--the United States will need a more flexible strategy, officials in Washington acknowledged.

Widespread violence and instability in Iraq, fueled by a lack of jobs and of a trained police force, as well as by a declining quality of life, have derailed reconstruction efforts. Part of the problem, some argue, is that the United States has been slow in dispersing its $18.4 billion aid package.

Now, the United States is trying to backtrack. The State Department has decided to defer infrastructure projects that were not going to start until 2006 or later and free up $3.4 billion of the reconstruction funds to pay for "more quick disbursing, employment, [and] security projects," said Robin Raphel, the director of Iraq reconstruction at the State Department.

The original philosophy behind the Iraqi reconstruction was that the United States would restore the infrastructure to a reasonable prewar level, and then the Iraqis would be able "to take off," said Raphel. "Their economy will be stimulated, opened up, and the capacity to support economic development and job creation will be there."

But that thinking failed to take into account other, more pressing, needs, she admitted. "We needed to spend money on security; we needed to spend money on helping the Iraqis understand and modernize their governance structure," Raphel told the Defense Writers Group in Washington, D.C.

To do that, the State Department undertook what Raphel calls a "strategic shift" in the allocation of the $18.4 billion in assistance money.

Even though this reallocation plan came later than expected, Congress approved shifting $3.4 billion into six key areas. The brunt of it, $1.8 billion, will go to security and law enforcement; $450 million is slated for oil infrastructure enhancements and improved export capacity; $380 million will go towards comprehensive economic development; $260 million will help with accelerating Iraqi employment; $180 million will support democracy and governance, while $360 million will go towards forgiving bilateral debt.

The large infrastructure projects that already are in progress are not going to be stopped, Raphel said. "There was a trail of planned projects, some of which would not come on stream until 2006 or later," she said. "And remember that $18.4 billion is a heck of a lot of money to spend, and big infrastructure projects have a start-up time."

In community level projects, she said, "a small amount of money can go a long way."

In the long term, "I think we are moving in the right direction," she added. Adjusting to changing circumstances, "in an enterprise of this nature, I think everyone would agree is inevitable."

Despite these recent changes in the reconstruction planning, the United States has to make up a lot of ground, experts said.

Iraqis are judging U.S. actions and achievements by several standards: in contrast to those of Saddam Hussein, in light of Iraq's many desperate, unmet needs, and by what they assume U.S. wealth and power should be able to achieve, according to a study published in September by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The study is entitled "Progress or Peril? Measuring Iraq's Reconstruction."

Iraqis generally dislike the continued presence of the U.S.-led military forces in their country, said the report, which is based on research conducted between June 2003 and July 2004.

Many Iraqis consider the occupation to be ongoing despite the June handover of sovereignty. "The sentiment is caused by the mere fact of occupation, rather than by the particular qualities and experiences of this occupation, such as atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison, civilian deaths or cultural insensitivities, although those factors certainly exacerbate it," said the report. …

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