Unkept Promises

LA Times — For Iraqis, A Symbol Of Unkept Promises

As much as civilian casualties or detainee abuse, the erratic reconstruction of their country has turned Iraqis against the occupation. Many people welcomed last year’s invasion, hoping that the world’s only superpower could elevate their wretched standard of living.

But a year later, the promised $18 billion in U.S. reconstruction money is only now hitting the streets. Projects have been delayed by insurgent attacks and rampant corruption, committed by Iraqis but blamed on the Americans. Baghdad’s boulevards are lined with trash. Geysers of sewage erupt in even the wealthiest neighborhoods of the capital. Unemployment is epidemic nationwide.

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“Everybody in Iraq wants to eat and have a new salary and a new address as soon as possible. They do not want to say thanks to the Americans for getting rid of that bloody tyrant, Saddam Hussein, which will not be repaid for 10 generations,” said Hasanein F. Muallah, who is in charge of school construction for the Education Ministry. “The Iraqis are impatient. They need to have everything right now.”

Dan Senor, the main spokesman for the coalition, said citizens overestimated the power of the United States.

“It’s perfectly understandable, but sometimes the Iraqi people have unrealistic expectations of what the Americans can do,” he said. “They don’t understand how a country that could defeat the Iraqi army cannot get the power back on. But the fact is that the nation’s infrastructure was in a lot worse shape than we thought.”

Another issue is that the occupation has decreased Iraqis’ sense of personal security. Many say the roving bands of kidnappers and bandits — not to mention the heavily armed U.S. soldiers — are more terrifying than Hussein’s secret police.

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The men complained that the occupation authority did not seek enough input from Iraqis, who could guide them through the corruption-riddled world of local contracting. They rattled off stories of the graft that has infected the reconstruction process, including a local project in which the contractor did not repair sewer lines yet pocketed $25,000 from the Americans.

A pretty fair summation of the situation: Unrealistic expectations of how quickly we could accomplish a total reshaping of the Iraqi political and economic climate combined with a larger-than-expected insurgency and an inadequate understanding of local culture. The good news is that we appear to be learning and adjusting rather rapidly. Further, the fact that the government and security apparatus will have a predominately Iraqi face from today forward should help.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.