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We cannot afford to fail

About the authors
Bathsheba Crocker is s 2002-03 International Affairs Fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations.
Johanna Mendelson Forman is a senior associate in the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC
John Hamre is President and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Rick Barton is co-director of the post-conflict reconstruction project at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington D.C., and a visiting lecturer at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.
Robert Orr currently serves as Vice President of the Council on Foreign Relations and Director of its programme in Washington D.C.

Ambassador L. Paul Bremer is in Washington at a critical moment in the US-led reconstruction efforts in Iraq. Anxiety is growing among the Iraqis as well as among coalition military and civilian officials our team spoke with over eleven days earlier this month. Almost all are disoriented by the enormity of the changes that have come after decades of oppression and the challenges ahead, and eager for tangible signs of progress. Amid continuing attacks on coalition soldiers and international civilians, the unreliability of basic services, and the assassination of Iraqi friends, the United States must remain steadfast and agile.

In our testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 23 July , we focus on seven priority areas for the coalition.

Establishing public safety

The coalition military presence is large, but the forces are insufficient to meet the current tasks of reconstruction and fighting an insurgency. Focus on troop levels alone will not provide the answer. Security will be assured only through the right configuration of composite forces – US, coalition, and Iraqi armed forces and police. The coalition should reassess force structure, and it must recalibrate its expectations of how quickly Iraqis can be expected to address the serious security problems they face. To protect against spoilers that could continue to threaten the peace, a demobilisation and reintegration programme must begin immediately for former members of the armed forces and for militias.

Expanding Iraqi ownership

The Iraqi peoples’ responsibility for their own future must be firmly established at the national, provincial, and local levels. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has successfully established municipal councils in an estimated 75% of Iraq; these bodies must be given the capacity and resources to respond to local demands, and they must be linked with the new Iraqi Governing Council. The coalition must strike the right balance between increasing Iraqis’ participation in their country’s governance and overburdening this new body with too many controversial issues early on.

Putting people to work and providing basic services

The immediate needs on the economic front are providing employment opportunities to keep people off the streets and refurbishing basic services. The US government must do whatever is needed to restart power and water, even if that means sending stockpiles of generators to address short-term requirements. A series of work initiatives are needed – with a particular emphasis on young, urban populations – and should include restarting salvageable Iraqi state-owned enterprises. Now is not the time to put more people out of work.

Decentralising the Coalition Provisional Authority

The reconstruction of Iraq is too large to be handled from the centre. The CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) must be given adequate resources to devolve responsibilities to eighteen provincial offices with strong local administrators, anchored in the communities, and capable of putting programmes into practice immediately.

Advancing change in the Iraqi mindset

After thirty years of oppression and distrust, the CPA needs an intense communications and marketing campaign to help facilitate a profound change in the Iraqi national frame of mind. This must start with a much clearer understanding of Iraqis’ attitudes and aspirations. From that base, the coalition must be clear about its goals and intentions, recognising the need for constant, quality information.

Mobilising a new reconstruction coalition

Relying on the war coalition to produce the peace will not be sufficient. The United States, working with the G7, the World Bank and the United Nations, should oversee a donor coordination process that goes beyond the states that formed the fighting coalition. The CPA should reach out broadly to other countries – and to the United Nations – to take advantage of unique capacities and civilian expertise that will be critical going forward.

Increasing funding and flexibility

The daunting challenges in Iraq require giving the CPA adequate resources and complete flexibility to spend money. ‘Business as usual’ approaches to questions of resources are inappropriate to the tasks at hand.

With inadequate resources to start with, past or future obligations should not encumber any potential reconstruction revenues, particularly when projections for medium-term oil production are modest. The United States should push Iraq’s creditors to forgive Iraq’s outstanding debt burden and avoid calls to encumber future oil revenues to generate immediate income.

Ambassador Bremer prominently displays a sign that says “success has a thousand fathers” on his desk. Yet the prospects for a US success in Iraq are challenged by the enormity of the task we face in rebuilding a nation largely alone.

The window for making this reconstruction effort take hold is closing fast. The next year will determine whether this undertaking will be a victory for the coalition and for the Iraqi people. We cannot afford to let it become the proverbial orphaned failure.

The authors constituted the Iraq Reconstruction Assessment Mission, a team of experts in post-conflict reconstruction who traveled in Iraq from 26 June to 7 July 2003 on commission from the US Pentagon.

For further information see Iraq’s Post-Conflict Reconstruction

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