Iraq’s Water Problems

My initial thought upon seeing this WaPo piece, “Iraqi Experts Tossed With The Water” was that Iraq’s water is probably better than D.C.’s. But the story is rather serious:

Al-Ani is an employee of the General Co. for Water Projects, one of 200-odd ventures in Iraq that are owned wholly or in part by the state and have been told they are ineligible for contracts being issued by the occupation. The company’s 187 workers still collect their government salaries but they now spend their days on floors two and three of a downtown building here playing video games, reading books and chitchatting to pass the time.


The decision to ban state-owned companies from reconstruction contracts funded by U.S. taxpayers was made for both legal and philosophical reasons. The Coalition Provisional Authority was unclear how U.S. regulations apply to a company that was owned by a rogue state that no longer exists. And it was hoping to redistribute wealth and power in a country that for decades was dominated by Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party loyalists.

The problem is that practically every company of significance — including those responsible for essential public works such as the electrical grid and telephone system — was owned by the government. The Iraqi ministries have shifted some of the roughly 400,000 workers involved to other government jobs, but the others remain sidelined. This is forcing the occupation to pay a premium for foreign workers and to import materials that could be made within the country.

“We have many good, viable government factories and it would benefit everyone if they were part of rebuilding the country,” said Sami Al-Araji, director general of planning for the Ministry of Industry and Minerals, which owns 45 companies.


Under the initial postwar plan, the state ventures were to have a major role in the reconstruction. They were to be privatized, modernized and made profitable by foreign investors and wealthy Iraqis. But after some Iraqi leaders objected, saying they were uneasy about the idea of selling off state assets without the backing of a democratically elected government, the plan was delayed. The question of what to do with these companies has been in limbo ever since.

This was a strange move, indeed, as this was a lesson identified* during the post-WWII occupation in Germany. Trying to run the show without former Nazis was futile, as almost anyone in a position of authority had to show allegiance to the party. I agree that trying to privatize the state-owned facilities prior to a turnover would have been problematic. The obvious answer would have been to have run it under Coalition auspices. I understand the desire to maintain the illusion that we’re not an occupying force, given our benevolent intent, but that’s what we are.

*At a recent conference, I learned that the military has quit using the term “lessons learned,” noting that the lesson is often not actually “learned” since we keep making the same mistakes.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jalal Abu Jarhead says:

    If they’re not going to call them “lessons learned,” then what do they plan to call them? Maybe, “mistakes you can plan on making in the future”?

  2. James Joyner says:

    “Lessons Identified.”

  3. Jalal Abu Jarhead says:

    That actually makes sense.

  4. Al Bee says:

    I can’t understand why the Post goes overseas to discuss water problems. Except to bash Bush.

    They have a stinking mess in their own backyard. An expose would drive away tourists, but honesty has never been a Post strong point.

    Murder capital of the country. A mayor so naive he allows people to cheat in his name. Still the Post has the unmitigated gall to tell Virginia’s how to run their state. Best to stay home and solve the problems at home. It’s a 7/24 job!

  5. James Joyner says:

    The WaPo editorial board may be many things, but responsible for the lousy water and electoral politics in the District aren’t among them.