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Bad days ahead (continued)

NEW: Read the original text of the CPA memo.

Pre-war concerns validated

By and large, the March memo validates many points raised by career military, diplomatic, and intelligence officers before the war. For them, lack of planning for post-war stabilization was a primary matter of deep concern, which cannot be said for the Bush administration’s hawkish advocates of "regime change."

Among the more informed and prescient in this camp is Retired USAF Colonel Sam Gardiner, a long-time National War College instructor and war-games specialist who asserted in February of 2003 that "the military is not prepared to deal with [Bush’s] promises" of a rapid and rosy post-war transition in Iraq. Based on Gardiner’s experience as a participant in a Swedish National War College study of protracted difficulties in rebuilding Kosovo’s electrical grid after NATO bombed it in 1999, Gardiner made a similar study, in 2002, of the likely effect US bombardment would have on Iraq’s power system. Gardiner’s assessment was not optimistic. It was also hardly unknown: not only did he present his finding to a mass audience at a RAND Corporation forum, he also briefed ranking administration officials ranging from then-NSC Iraq point man Zalmay Khalizad to senior Pentagon and US Agency for International Development officials.

Despite repeated assurances over the past year from CPA chief L. Paul Bremer that Iraq’s electricity situation has vastly improved, the memo says otherwise, reporting that there is "no consistency" in power flows. "Street lights function irregularly and traffic lights not at all.... Electricity in Baghdad fluctuating between three hours, on and off, in rotation, and four hours on and off."

"I continue to get very upset about the electricity issue," Gardiner said last week after reviewing the memo. "I said in my briefing that the electrical system was going to be damaged, and damaged for a long time, and that we had to find a way to keep key people at their posts and give them what they need so there wouldn’t be unnatural surges that cause systems to burn out. Frankly, if we had just given the Iraqis some baling wire and a little bit of space to keep things running, it would have been better. But instead we’ve let big US companies go in with plans for major overhauls."

Indeed, as journalists Pratap Chatterjee and Herbert Docena noted in a report from Iraq in Southern Exposure, published by the Durham, North Carolina–based Institute for Southern Studies, the steam turbines at Iraq’s Najibiya power plant have been dormant since last fall. As Yaruub Jasim, the plant’s manager, explained, "Normally we have power 23 hours a day. We should have done maintenance on these turbines in October, but we had no spare parts and money." And why not? According to Jasim, the necessary replacement parts were supposed to come from Bechtel, but they hadn’t arrived yet — in part because Bechtel’s priority was a months-long independent examination of power plants with an eye towards total reconstruction. And while parts could have been cheaply and quickly obtained from Russian, German, or French contractors — the contractors who built most of Iraq’s power stations — "unfortunately," Jasim told Chatterjee and Docena, "Mr. Bush prevented the French, Russian, and German companies from [getting contracts in] Iraq." (In an interview last year with the San Francisco Chronicle, Bechtel’s Iraq operations chief held that "to just walk in and start fixing Iraq" was "an unrealistic expectation.")

The CPA memo also validates key points of the exceptionally perceptive February 2003 US Army War College report, "Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario." Critical of the US government’s insufficient post-war planning, the War College report asserted that "the possibility of the United States winning the war and losing the peace is real and serious," and cautioned that insufficient attention had been given to the political complexities likely to crop up in post-Saddam Iraq, a scene in which religious and ethnic blocs supported by militias would further complicate a transition to functional democracy in a nation bereft of any pluralistic history.

According to a Washington, DC–based senior military official whose responsibilities include Iraq, CPA now estimates there are at least 30 separate militias active in Iraq, and "essentially, [CPA] doesn’t know what to do with regard to them — which is frightening, because CPA’s authority essentially ends on June 30, and any Iraqi incentive to get rid of the militias is likely to go away after that date, as sending US troops around Iraq against Iraqis isn’t likely to endear the new Iraqi government to its citizens."

And then there is the problems of Iran. According to the memo, "Iranian money is pouring in" to occupied Iraq — particularly the area under British control — and it asserts it is "a mistake" to stick to a policy of "not rock[ing] the boat" with the Iranians, as "the Iranian actors with which the State Department likes to do business . . . lack the power to deliver on promises" to exercise restraint in Iraq. According to senior US intelligence and military officials queried on this point, the Iranian influence in Iraq is both real and formidable, and the US is, as one put it, at best "catching up" in the battle for influence. But the officials also added that pushing the point with Iran too hard — either through diplomatic channels or on the ground in Iraq — would likely be more troubled than the current course of action, possibly resulting in armed conflict with Iran or a proxy war in Iraq that the US isn’t ready to fight.

Famously, Lord Cromer once described Great Britain’s approach to the Land of the Nile: "We do not rule Egypt; we rule those who rule Egypt." Compare that with several statements made by the US official who wrote the memo considered here. Of one senior Iraqi official, whose name is redacted, he states that "it is better to keep [him] a happy drunk than an angry drunk." And he says of two other Iraqi leaders that they are "much more compliant when their checks are delayed or fail to appear," adding that "the same is true with other Governing Council members." The attitudes aren’t much different, are they? And yet sometimes, the most true and heartbreaking view is afforded from the wheel of the mighty ship of state.

Jason Vest is a senior correspondent for the American Prospect. His book on the current Bush administration and national security will be published in 2005. This piece was commissioned by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN) for use by its members and is being published simultaneously by more than 60 alternative newspapers and Web sites.

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Issue Date: April 23 - 30, 2004
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