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Nation Building In Iraq:
Future Plans And Problems For the Postwar Period


Friday, Apr. 11, 2003

It is indisputable that the United States and Great Britain (not to overlook such other powers in the "coalition of the willing" as Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Eritrea, Iceland, Mongolia, and Uganda) will soon crush the regime of Saddam Hussein, or what remains of it. That inevitability has caused President Bush and Prime Minister Blair to meet in Belfast to talk about what to do when Saddam is gone.

Our unilateralist president is not much interested in the United Nations's participating in that post-war process. And while Mr. Blair feels otherwise, it does not appear he has changed Bush's mind. Thus, the "vital role" of the United Nations will probably be limited to assisting with humanitarian aid.

No one questions the authority of the United Nations to rebuild Iraq, but all signs suggest that it will be the U.S., not the U.N., that will do so. That's a mistake. Given what the Bush administration hopes to accomplish in the new Iraq, going it alone may prove dicey - notwithstanding noble intentions.

Bush Administration Plans For Post-Saddam Iraq

The Bush Administration has been quietly focusing on post-war Iraq planning for months. According to the testimony of Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman, the guiding principle of the planning has been that the "United States wants to liberate, not occupy Iraq or control Iraqis or their economic resources."

One major component of the planning has been Bush's "Future of Iraq Project." The project has involved working with free Iraqis, experts and knowledgeable persons outside Saddam's grip. They have been assisting in addressing seventeen areas that will be crucial to a postwar Iraq: Transitional Justice, Public Finance, Democratic Principles, Public Health and Humanitarian Issues, Public Outreach, Water, Agriculture and the Environment, Economy and Infrastructure, Local Government, Defense Policy, Oil and Energy, Education, Anti-Corruption Issues, Civil Society--Capacity Building, Building a Free Media, Return of Refugees and Displaced Persons, Foreign Policy, and Preservation of Iraq's Cultural Heritage.

For example, Iraqi attorneys working with the Transitional Justice group have drafted six-hundred pages of proposed reforms for the criminal and civil codes, and the codes of criminal and civil procedure. Others in this group have developed reforms for the police, the courts, the prisons, and even the stock exchange.

Once the Coalition military has full control of Iraq, the planned reconstruction of the country will proceed in three phases. The first is the stabilizing phase; the second is the phase in which Iraq makes the transition to democracy, and the third is the transformation phase, in which Iraq will draft and adopt a Constitution.

The Stabilizing Phase

Initially, in the stabilizing phase, a military administration assembled by the Coalition forces will focus on post-Saddam security, stability and order. Depending upon whose opinion is asked, this phase could be as brief as a few weeks, or could be much longer. No one, at this time, can be certain - given the fact that the arrival of American and British troops has not been uniformly perceived as liberation by Iraqis.

During this initial phase, Coalition military forces will be searching for and destroying any and all weapons of mass destruction. And others will move quickly to bring law and order to the streets of Basra and Baghdad.

Moreover, stabilization, according to the plan, will not only bring humanitarian relief to suffering Iraqis, but will get American and British troops home as soon as possible.

The Transition to Democracy Phase

Once the country has been stabilized, the plans call for a transition to a democratic state. No doubt this will begin with local elections as one city after another is stabilized. According to Undersecretary Grossman, it is contemplated that authority will be "progressively given to Iraqi institutions" as they become democratic.

For example, the plans call for starting with Basra, as soon as the fighting stops and humanitarian problems are solved. But it is very fuzzy as to how long it will take to accomplish this transition throughout Iraq, in every city. The Congressional Reference Service of the Library of Congress is estimating that this transition phase may occupy up to two years.

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. officials want to get the ball rolling as soon as possible with cities under their control, in order to show on a local level that their plans will work. If they succeed quickly in Umm Qasr, and then in Basra, the pattern, they hope, will be established for Baghdad and the rest of the nation.

The Transformation Phase

In the third phase, the plans call for the founders of the new Iraq to draft, debate and approve a new, democratic constitution. Then under that constitution, the founders will hold free and fair elections to select the future government of Iraq. At this final stage, the governing power will completely pass from the military authorities to Iraqi civilians.

None of these plans contemplates the United Nations's involvement. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz explains that the United States plans to transfer power to the Iraqi people as quickly as possible, "not to some other external authority, but to the Iraqi people themselves." Bush wants nothing to do with the United Nations taking charge, for he has no interest in haggling with the French and Russians, who apparently were happy with Iraq under Saddam.

The plans that have been revealed to date appear excellent, if not idealistic. Implementing the plans, however, will raise its own issues - namely who will be in charge, how much will it cost, and who is going to pay for it.

Bush's Nation Builders: Franks, Garner and Chalabi

After months of press rumors, it appears that the rebuilding of Iraq will be guided by three men: General Tommy Franks, who heads the U.S. Forces in Iraq; Retired Lt. General Jay Garner, who served in Northern Iraq in 1991; and Ahmed Chalabi, who heads the exiled Iraqi National Congress based in London.

General Franks - a familiar figure from his periodic press briefings - will be in charge of the initial phase, as his occupying troops sniff out remaining pockets of opposition, and search for weapons of mass destruction, in the stabilization phase. This first phase will largely be a continuation of the successful conquest of Iraq.

Retired general Jay Garner will direct phase two, the stabilizing and rebuilding phase. His official title is Director of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. His unofficial titles range from "the sheriff of Baghdad" to "viceroy-designate." His pal Don Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, punched Garner's ticket for this job.

Garner first commanded Patriot missile batteries that protected Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, and then led "Operation Comfort," the mission to provide a safe haven to Kurds. More recently, he has served as president of SY Coleman, a missile defense contractor that has supplied many of the missiles being rained on Iraq.

Garner's selection has troubled many. For example, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that David Kirp, a professor at UC Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy who focuses on ethics, believes that Bush is sending a wrong message to Iraqis with Garner. "This is a lovely example of our indifference to the people of Iraq," he said. "It truly bespeaks a lack of serious thinking on the administration's part."

Other press reports express concern with Garner's claimed Zionist sympathies. Apparently Garner publicly sided with Israel when it blamed the Palestinian Authority for the violence that destroyed the October 2000 peace talks.

The Controversy Over the Choice of Chalabi as Iraq's New Titular Head

To lead the final phase, it appears (but has not been officially confirmed) that President Bush has made his most controversial selection: Ahmed Chalabi, as the new titular head of the nation. The choice of Chalabi is said to have the support of both Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Chalabi is now in Iraq, at the U.S.'s behest, along with other exiles. The Wall Street Journal reports that over the weekend of April 5-6, the United States airlifted some 700 exiled Iraqis into the southern city of Nasiriya: "With them was Ahmed Chalabi [who] ... hadn't been in southern Iraq for 30 years." Chalabi was born in 1945 to a wealthy Iraqi banking family. He left Iraq in 1956, and later studied mathematics at the University of Chicago and MIT, before entering the world of international banking. He is controversial because heads of other Arab nations want nothing to do with him. He has been convicted in the Jordanian courts of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 1977, Chalabi founded the Petra Bank in Jordan, and as its chief executive, made it Jordan's second largest bank. When the bank collapsed in 1989, he allegedly escaped from Jordan in the trunk of a car. Given an outstanding sentence for twenty-two years of hard labor, he's not been back. He claims that Saddam framed him.

Chalabi, however, says that he is not interested in holding office in Iraq. Rather he says he "job will end with the liberation of Iraq." Only time will tell about Chalabi's actual ambitions, or lack thereof. Perhaps he's merely looking to open a few bank branches.

America's Checkered and Uneven History of Nation Building

The United States has a long history, but a mixed record, of building other nations. Clearly, our greatest successes are Japan and Germany - not to overlook the Marshall Plan's positive impact on all the European nations.

But in recent times, particularly in the decade since the end of the Cold War, we have failed. As one observer noted: "We said we'd bring order to Somalia, but we left chaos. We went to Haiti to restore democracy, but left tyranny. We intervened in Kosovo to create a multiethnic democracy, but we may become embroiled in renewed strife and bloodshed." To this list must be added Afghanistan, where we are failing terribly at present.

Many in Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, question whether the United States should be in the nation building business at all. So far, they have remained silent about the future of Iraq. But rest assured that is not going to last.

A Coming Political Fight Over Implementing Plans To Rebuild Iraq

Clearly, the initial "stabilization" phase of rebuilding Iraq is only an extension of the activities authorized by Congress's October 2002 Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq.

But at some point during the following two phases of Iraq's transformation, the work of an invading and occupying force becomes something more than a military action, and victor's justice. That means new authorization ought to be obtained - and it may not be easy to procure.

Congress always provides American troops with what they need, but it is not clear that Congress is willing to provide the money needed to rebuild Iraq. Just as Bush did not do a very good job of building a multilateral coalition to fight in Iraq, he has similarly ignored the widespread opposition to nation building in his own country. Indeed, until recently he himself shared this same opposition.

With or Without Congress's Support, Rebuilding Will Be Fraught with Problems

If Congress will not fund the Administration, Iraq may be in deep trouble. Assuming, as has been repeatedly stated by Bush Administration officials, that we have no designs on Iraqi oil, funding for rebuilding may be lacking.

The United States can hardly go in and rebuild the country to suit our fancy, using American corporations to do the job, and then pay itself with Iraqi oil. If this is the plan, it would make the claim that this was a war of liberation a sham. While our officials keep saying Iraqi oil belongs to the Iraqi people, I have a disquieting feeling the Iraqis are never going to reap those rewards but a lot of American executives will. Hopefully, I'm wrong.

When hostilities stop, another predictable controversy will likely arise. Democrats are going to start asking why the Bush Administration is awarding hefty contracts, without competitive bidding and in secret, to American companies headed by executives who have helped fill the coffers of the Republican Party. The Bush Administration would do well to remember that the infamous Teapot Dome scandal from the 1920s grew out of secretly awarding "national security" contracts to friendly oil barons.

It is going to require a lot of money to rebuild Iraq. If Bush insists on going it alone, he is going to confront opposition not only in the world community, but also in Washington. Not all Americans are ready to bankrupt their entitlement programs in order to build a new Iraq friendly to American oil companies. Nor are all Americans ready for budget deficits that their children and grandchildren will have to pay off one day.

Before anyone gets too heady over victory in Iraq, they should look to the future, considering the coming problems and costs of winning the peace. It is going to require far more time and money than toppling the corrupt and brutal dictator who has run Iraq toward its ruin.

John W. Dean, a FindLaw columnist, is a former counsel to the President.

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