By Ralph Dannheisser – Washington File Special Correspondent – Washington # Bush administration officials spearheading the postwar reconstruction of Iraq told a congressional committee October 8 that, while major problems remain, the effort has already scored a broad range of successes.
Testifying at a hearing on “Winning the Peace: Coalition Efforts to Restore Iraq” held by the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, witnesses representing the State and Defense Departments and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) cited progress in a range of areas, including security, the restoration of water and power, and a functioning school system.
In his welcoming comments, Committee Chairman Tom Davis (Republican from Virginia) echoed the officials’ comments.
Davis, who led an 11-member congressional delegation to Iraq in August, said that while “most press accounts of our efforts in Iraq were full of gloom and doom,” his group found “an Iraq of great promise, vibrancy and vitality.”
“We saw a nation with potential and a people that were enjoying the fruits of freedom in its infancy,” Davis said. “We saw remarkable progress throughout the country # whether it was a hospital in Baghdad or a new police station in Mosul.” Indeed, he said, the pace of that progress “surpasses operations we led after World War II, and we are well ahead of the pace of our reconstruction efforts in the Balkans.”
Davis acknowledged “a lot of work ahead of us,” adding that “our military is still in harm’s way.” But, he said, “from what I have seen we can be successful as long as we remain steadfast, patient and committed.”
Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee told the committee that his own visits to Iraq have left him convinced that U.S. soldiers charged with advancing the reconstruction effort take their mission seriously, and that their commitment “is having an extraordinarily positive effect on the people of Iraq.”
Brownlee listed a number of “great things happening,” including the establishment of functioning local government councils in over 90 percent of the country, refurbishment of some 820 schools in the Baghdad region, removal of dangerous ammunition caches from around the country, and the start of efforts to restore and modernize long-neglected roads and other infrastructure.
The army chief observed that the insurgency being waged in Iraq by foreign fighters and terrorist groups as well as Saddam Hussein loyalists makes the country “the central battlefront of the war on terrorism.” In that context, he said, the task is a staggering one for U.S. military personnel who “must simultaneously conduct combat operations and provide humanitarian assistance, often shifting between the two in the course of a single day.”
He urged Congress to provide the resources for the dual efforts by giving quick passage to the $87 billion supplemental appropriation sought by President Bush.
Philo Dibble, principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Near East Affairs, placed the reconstruction effort within a broader context, suggesting that success in Iraq could spawn peace and prosperity throughout the region and beyond.
“For far too long, Iraq exported destabilizing waves of violence. Iraq now has the potential to turn this situation around and become a source of stability and prosperity in the region, around the world, and for Americans here at home,” he said.
Dibble said the task facing the United States and its coalition partners has three main dimensions: providing security, restoring normal life, and establishing a political process.
And, he told committee members, “Succeeding in this project, in all its aspects, is a vital interest of the United States.”
The State Department official reiterated the U.S. view that success in Iraq is a vital interest of the entire international community. Accordingly, he said, “We look to the United Nations to contribute its substantial expertise and experience … and we are aggressively seeking substantial financial support from the international community for the reconstruction effort.”
Asked by Rep. John Tierney (Democrat from Massachusetts) to outline diplomatic efforts aimed at spreading the costs of the operation, Dibble cited a donors’ conference scheduled to be held in Madrid October 23-24. In advance of that meeting, he said, there has been a meeting of the core group of lead donors, and a systematic effort is under way “to make sure we get as much as we can as soon as we can # possibly before Madrid.”
A third witness, Tom Korologos, a senior counselor to CPA Administrator Paul Bremer, joined his administration colleagues in citing the need for “many many dollars to bring the country back to some semblance of freedom.”
“Once that happens, the entire Middle East hopefully will stand up and take notice and some sanity will come to that part of the world,” he said.
Korologos made clear that the effort could take some time. He cited a Rand Corporation study, which warned, “Staying there does not assume success. Leaving early guarantees failure.”
The committee’s senior Democrat, Rep. Henry Waxman of California, questioned the witnesses closely as to how reconstruction contracts for Iraq are being awarded.
Waxman complained that lucrative contracts had gone to major U.S. corporations, without adequate competition, while indigenous Iraqi companies that could have performed the work far more cheaply had been ignored.
One administration witness, Army Major General Carl Strock, who has served as the CPA’s deputy director of operations, said officials did not initially have time to search out local firms, given the need to act swiftly when “we went into a nation that had no power, no water, no communications.”
But, he said, “We recognize that it’s much better to go in an open, competitive way.” And, with the job now well started, “the plan … is that the process will be full and open,” he assured Waxman.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)