From The Inside Looking Out:
Report-22-These Things Take Time
by Jerry Levin
June 12, 2003
June 10: Professionals, adept at waging war and promoting the proposition that it is an appropriate means for establishing peace, can be counted on to usually promise that peace will follow in war's wake. But once again in Iraq, those professionals are proving how woefully incompetent they are when it comes to waging the peace, which they insist will follow. Street protests and worse continue: tangible demonstrations of Iraqi exasperation and/or impatience with the pace of the occupation's restoration of such vital institutions as: security, education, power, fuel, sanitation, and health.
Security: three kinds-The first continues to be law and order capable of protecting businesses, social, and governmental institutions and, of course, individuals and their homes, as well as their places of employment, from looting, robbery, or expropriation from squatters. In fact one of the indelible images I have of postwar Iraq are Baghdad's sidewalks eerily characterized by an almost complete absence of women. They have been staying warily at home. It's almost as if "Left Behind," suddenly came true in Baghdad, and the humans left are men, youths, and boys.
When my wife, Sis, and I were in Baghdad, we only saw one Military Police vehicle in the streets. Maintaining order and security is still being carried out mainly by the occupiers' professional fighters-not by the military's professional police specialists whose job normally it is to establish and maintain social order and security in occupied lands until indigenous replacements can be organized and trained.
Instead, the men and women, who fought their way across Iraq, who are not professional where policing is concerned, are the ones who still have the job of not only policing the country but training the new local police forces as well. But that's like expecting a National football League quarterback to not only train a Major League baseball pitcher to throw fastballs but to actually do the pitching until his replacement gets up to speed.
To me this is an unconscionable strategy. When I first was contemplating that conclusion, I typed the word "blunder" instead of "strategy." But then I realized that the situation is so obviously and basically wrong, that it can't have been a blunder, but instead a predetermined strategy. The question is, why? Perhaps it has something to do with what President Bush crowed to cheering troops in Qatar recently. "Mission accomplished," he told them.
What mission? If the current continuing instability, which is providing a rationale for our military to put off getting to even the promised stage of shared governance, was the mission, then I guess he's right. The mission of putting and keeping the U. S. in charge of Iraq's future has indeed been accomplished. And, despite earlier assurances, that does not seem likely to change any time soon.
The second security problem is employment for the massively out of work population; and they need jobs paying decent wages, which will not be awarded for expedience' sake to murderous or murder acquiescing functionaries of the old regime.
The third security problem-protesters claim-is the continuing detentions by the occupation of current leaders or would be leaders-and some of their followers-under questionable conditions. A Christian Peacemaking Teams colleague reported recently that he saw a U. S. military truck moving down a Baghdad street. In the back were a number of blindfolded men. The last time I saw a chilling scene like that was in Palestine's West Bank.
Fourth: Education-School supplies and equipment, looted and destroyed during the war, have not been replaced. And girls schools as well as some boys schools are staying closed because their students are afraid to leave home because of the escalating peril in the streets.
Fifth: Electrical power to get and keep all vital social, commercial, and governmental institutions up and running;
Sixth: Fuel-Gasoline in plentiful enough supply to enable Iraqis to travel for business or recreation without having to wait in traffic snarling lines for interminable hours, and at a price that they can afford. And cooking gas also continues to be in short supply.
Seventh: Power-dependent water purification facilities and sewage disposal systems that work;
Eighth: Garbage and trash collections that will finally get citizens who are living and working on side streets ahead of health issues exacerbated by mounds of refuse.
And finally-ninth: a viable functioning health and nutrition infrastructure. Hospitals are still being looted of medicine and equipment while adequate food supplies remain out of reach of the city's poor.
But the problem for most Iraqis, especially the protesters frustrated by the distressing effects so far of regime change, is that despite their efforts to be heard, they believe that they are not. What is even more distressing is that the occupation keeps insisting that Iraqis have been and are being unrealistic in their expectations. I have heard more than one occupation official say, "These things take time."
But the truth is that, before the invasion of Iraq, planning and preparations to deal with such "things" apparently was minimal. Despite warnings from professionals with experience dealing with such situations neither materiel nor specialists were positioned in the desert-to the rear of our conquering troops-ready to be to be moved in shortly after Baghdad and Basra and other cities fell.
Why? Well, as one civilian rehabilitation consultant attached to the occupation told me, "We're waiting for the Bechtel man." Anyone not familiar with Bechtel? That's the huge west coast industrial conglomerate to which the Administration gave most of the lucrative rehabilitation and rebuilding contracts without taking any bids. The Bechtel man exemplifies the lucrative privatization of the nation rebuilding phase of the occupation. And he is not about to get things going until the security situation has stabilized.
When I reported such facts in one of the last commentaries I sent back from Baghdad, I ascribed occupation posture to the example set by its local head, Defense Department appointee retired General Jay Garner. I had no idea he would be fired two days later. As a result, there was momentary hope that his replacement by a former State Department man, L. Paul Bremer, would be a sign that Washington was reacting constructively to the complaints they had been hearing via other sources as to the slowness of the pace of reviving the most vital elements of Iraq's institutional and technological infrastructure. But it seems clear now that Washington was reacting not to the facts of the complaints but only to the obvious fact that the natives were and are clearly restless.
As a result the bottom line to regime change number two in Iraq, i.e. the axing of General Garner (regime change number one, of course, was the axing of Saddam Hussein) has been the breaking of assurances that so-called interim power sharing between the military and hand picked Iraqis would begin the end of May. Instead that significant "liberation" event has been postponed. So the natives, feeling increasingly patronized, not to mention double crossed, are more restless than before. Meanwhile, the body count of U. S. soldiers is inching up, in spite of President Bush's "mission accomplished" pronouncement.
So, Iraqis continue to suffer serious material, social, and political deprivations at the hands of the struggling open ended military rule that has been fronting for Washington's inexorably escalating neo-carpet bagging reconstruction policy. The policy, of course, is masquerading as nation building.
As a result I now not only worry about Iraqis caught in the escalating violence, I also worry about the many conscience stricken mom and apple pie young GIs we encountered in Baghdad. Many, if not all of them, are now in danger of being picked off day by day, one by one and two by two by an apparently rising number of Iraqis disillusioned by an occupation that they had been led to believe would be liberating. So any day now we may have to face the fact that the number of post Bush "Mission Accomplished" declared deaths among allied soldiers is going to eclipse the number of those who died during the invasion.
Don't expect very many of those left to tell the tale home by Christmas.
Jerry Levin, former CNN Bureau Chief in Beirut, captured and held hostage by Hizballah from 1984-85, is a journalist and a Christian Peace-Makers Team delegate who recently traveled to Iraq.