|Saturday, 10 May 2003|
U.S. Iraq occupation gets mixed reviews
WASHINGTON, (Reuters) A month after the United States toppled Saddam Hussein and took control of Iraq, its efforts to rebuild the country are getting mixed reviews from foreign policy experts.
The main criticism aimed at the U.S. occupation authorities focuses on their failure to prevent an orgy of looting that destroyed billions of dollars of Iraqi infrastructure, equipment and property, and their continued failure to impose law and order on the streets of many Iraqi towns and cities.
"The last month has been pretty catastrophic in terms of building a new Iraqi government," said Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia who recently returned from three weeks in Iraq.
"The authority of the occupying power of the United States was very much diminished by this orgy of looting and destruction," Galbraith said at a Washington briefing.
May 9 marks one month since U.S. Marines and a crowd of Iraqis triumphantly toppled a massive statue of Saddam in central Baghdad, signaling the end of the war. In that time, the United States has made some progress in promoting the formation of a new Iraqi political authority. But it has still not succeeded in restoring basic services like electricity and clean water.
Food is running short, gasoline is scarce and crime is rampant on the streets of Baghdad and other cities. Health officials said Wednesday that they had found 17 cases of cholera in southern Iraq. Still, some of the nightmare scenarios that were predicted have not happened. There has not been an outbreak of revenge killings against former Saddam allies and former government officials.
As importantly, the Iraqi oil industry survived the war virtually unscathed and is beginning to reorganize.
"Typically, the condition of civilians deteriorates at the end of a war," said Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "It happened in Germany and Japan in 1945 on a vastly worse scale and what's happening now in Iraq should not blind us to the fact that political efforts to build a new Iraqi authority are going faster than expected."
This week, President George W. Bush appointed former State Department official L. Paul Bremer to head the reconstruction effort, supplanting retired Gen. Jay Garner and giving the occupation more of a civilian face.
U.S. officials said they were surprised by the speed at which Saddam's government collapsed and this left them unprepared for many of the challenges that emerged, especially the looting.
But a month later, the U.S. military presence remains thin on the ground and the authorities have not found a way to communicate with the Iraqi people through television or radio.
"The U.S. occupiers were dealt a difficult hand and they are clearly struggling," said Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "In the next month, they have to get some kind of Iraqi administration functioning that starts to take back some authority and they have got to get the water, electricity and oil flowing," he said.
One striking development has been the emergence of Shi'ite Islamic organizations that are filling the power vacuum in the south. Some U.S. experts believe their growth, if left unchecked, spells trouble.
"The more the Shi'ites militias expand their reach and their power, the more difficult it will be for any central government in Iraq to operate effectively," said Robert Pape, a political scientist with the University of Chicago.
Produced by Lake House