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[casi] Baghdad: A Race Against the Clock

Baghdad: A Race Against the Clock

Click here to view the full report as a PDF file in A4 format.


Eight weeks after victoriously entering Baghdad, American forces are in a
race against the clock. If they are unable to restore both personal security
and public services and establish a better rapport with Iraqis before the
blistering heat of summer sets in, there is a genuine risk that serious
trouble will break out. That would make it difficult for genuine political
reforms to take hold, and the political liberation from the Saddam Hussein
dictatorship would then become for a majority of the country’s citizens a
true foreign occupation. With all eyes in the Middle East focused on Iraq,
the coming weeks and months will be critical for shaping regional
perceptions of the U.S. as well.

Ordinary Iraqis, political activists, international aid workers and U.S.
officials alike expressed concern to ICG that as temperatures rise during
the summer as high as 60º C (140º F), so, too, will the tempers of Baghdadis
who have been much tested by the hardships and uncertainty that followed the
collapse of Saddam Hussein’s hated regime, and whose cooperation is
essential to an orderly political transition in Iraq. Two months into the
new era, however, the U.S. and associated forces have dealt poorly with the
issues that affect Baghdadis most immediately. They must quickly give people
a feeling of greater safety in streets and homes and of improving services.
They need also to move more out of their isolated headquarters in order to
get in touch with average Iraqis and explain better policies on sensitive
issues that are causing considerable resentment. These include the
disposition of Saddam’s Baathist Party, demobilisation of security forces,
and delay in the turn over of meaningful political power.

It is too early to reach a conclusion on post-conflict Iraq. The speed of
the regime’s collapse, the near-total power vacuum that ensued and sharp
international divisions regarding the decision to go to war have all
complicated the task facing the new rulers, but Saddam’s fall has already
brought some immensely positive changes. For the first time in a generation,
Iraqis can express themselves without fear. Not surprisingly, they have
begun exercising their newly gained liberties, including via protest marches
against some of the policies of the very forces that made such
manifestations of discontent possible in the first place. They have started
to elect, or select, new leaderships in ministries, national institutions,
municipal councils and professional associations. These are rudimentary
forms of participatory democracy that, if sustained, hold promise of
yielding a new legitimate national leadership and laying the foundation for
a vibrant open society.

Yet ICG found Baghdad a city in distress, chaos and ferment. It is on issues
that concern its citizens the most that the occupying forces have done
least, and anger is palpable on the ground. While keenly aware of these
realities, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was only starting to
make a tangible difference in the lives of ordinary Iraqis eight weeks into
the occupation. Electricity, for example, has only just begun to be
available for longer periods, and its supply is still unreliable.
Time-consuming queues at gasoline stations and a pervasive sense of
insecurity remain particularly aggravating for a population that has seen
its government buildings and national institutions stripped bare, vandalised
and in some cases destroyed in a frenzy involving a combination of looters
and (apparently) saboteurs. Not safe even in their own homes from the crime
wave unleashed by the sudden power vacuum in the capital after 9 April,
Baghdadis move about gingerly when they can or, more likely, stay home
waiting for a degree of normalcy to return, all the while complaining about
their situation or exchanging horror stories about the latest killings,
rapes, carjacks and robberies that may or may not have taken place in their

Even senior American civilians in Baghdad express consternation at the
near-total absence of advance preparations for dealing with post-war needs.
They are among the first to acknowledge that they are virtually cut off from
the society they have been charged with helping back to its feet. Concerned
about their personal safety, permitted to move about the city only with a
military escort, preoccupied with turf battles, and largely unknowing of
Iraq and Iraqis, they venture from the grounds of the former Saddam Hussein
palace that is their main headquarters only infrequently and have minimal
interaction with the population. This disconnect is compounded by the delay
in restoring broadcasting facilities that has deprived the administration of
the ability to communicate its plans and even its achievements to ordinary

The CPA’s summary edicts are communicated through Iraqi newspapers that are
more numerous but also unaffordable to most and via radio. These accounts,
which are embellished and distorted as they spread through word of mouth,
are received with a mixture of outrage, resignation, puzzlement, and
profound disempowerment. The proclamation of 16 May on “disestablishment” of
the Baath Party, for example, was applauded by some as an essential first
step for rebuilding political life but was more widely criticised as
disregarding due process and too sweeping. It has the potential to unify
opposition to the U.S. among three distinct categories of Baathists – those
who were loyal to Saddam; those who joined out of expediency, and those who
joined early out of ideological conviction – when the goal ought to have
been to marginalise the first by co-opting the latter two.

The more recent order disbanding the military and other security forces has
been received with even greater anger, as it threatens to put hundreds of
thousands of mostly young men on the streets without serious prospect of
work or, thus far, promise of a pension. Many, it is feared, will join the
gangs of thieves who roam the streets virtually unchecked or form the nuclei
for future armed resistance to what is referred to as the American

Resentment is also mounting among Iraqis who aspire to political power, both
those who are slowly emerging from the shadows of the old regime and those
who came from abroad and today feel betrayed by the U.S. endorsement of U.N.
Security Council Resolution 1483 that offers them considerably less than the
Iraqi-run and sovereign interim government for which they had clamoured. The
absence of security, failure to restore collapsed basic services quickly and
misfiring of the political process are intimately interwoven. Insecurity
keeps Iraqis off the streets and away from jobs. It is futile to repair key
infrastructure if it is unguarded and so likely to be looted anew. The
removal of top management in ministries because of Baath Party membership
has led to confusion, deprived the CPA of technocratic help and further
delayed resumption of normal activity. Inequities in payment of salaries
(caused by pervasive Iraqi corruption) lead to slow-downs at power plants
and other facilities, and so complete the vicious cycle by providing further
incentives for desperate individuals to resort to crime.

This cycle, and the hopelessness it engenders for the vast majority of the
population, is the challenge the U.S. administration in Iraq must address
most urgently. Facing a serious credibility gap and hobbled by frequent
staff rotations and reorganisations of its rapidly growing bureaucracy, it
is banking on the prowess of its military forces, the talents of its
hard-working staff and a bit of luck to turn the situation around in the few
weeks left before the full summer heat descends. If the gamble fails, U.S.
legitimacy for many Iraqis may suffer a defeat that could prove difficult to
reverse and deal a serious, if not fatal, blow to the political transition
that today still holds out the prospect of significant material change in
the lives of all Iraqis.

Time is running short. To win this race against the clock, the CPA will need
to implement the following urgent measures, discussed in the subsequent
sections of this briefing:

-- Restore public order. This requires immediately placing armed guards
around the clock in front of all public institutions and key infrastructure
(power plants, oil refineries, water and sewage treatment stations,
hospitals); a more extensive U.S. military presence; and getting more Iraqi
police on the street by speeding up training of credible, vetted elements of
the old force, giving Iraqi officers greater latitude to work, albeit under
the ultimate supervision of the CPA, and re-appointing senior officers
untainted by corruption and regime-related criminality. The CPA should fund
and dispatch an experienced international constabulary force trained for
civilian policing duties to conduct joint patrols with Iraqi counterparts.
And, using existing police files, the CPA should implement a procedure by
which, after a careful review by qualified Iraqi judges, many criminals
amnestied by the previous regime can be identified and rearrested.

-- Repair basic infrastructure and restore essential services. While the
priority in this respect is to move forward with a regular and reliable
supply of electricity and gasoline, an effort also should be made to speed
up the payment of salaries.

-- Improve the CPA's broadcasting capabilities and public profile. The CPA
should use the full range of media to communicate its progress and plans to
the Iraqi people and organise public discussions in these media so that
issues and concerns can be aired. It should, in the same spirit, establish
walk-in centres at the neighbourhood level (providing the minimum necessary
security), where Iraqis can both receive and convey information and lodge
complaints. And the CPA should improve communications with non-governmental
organisations and U.N. agencies, including via weekly briefings convened by
the directors of its various branches.

-- Reconsider the sweeping de-Baathification edict. The CPA should retain
in, or return to, their positions qualified senior managers who do not have
a proven record of corruption and abuse, even if they were members of the
Baath Party, and especially if they were not senior members. At the same
time, it should set up a vetting mechanism consisting of independent Iraqis
and legally-trained non-Iraqis to screen methodically the upper echelons of
ministries and national institutions for elements suspected of committing
crimes under the previous regime, irrespective of Baath Party membership and
in keeping with principles of due process. And, for those Iraqis who are
dismissed or demobilised, the CPA should hold out the possibility of
re-recruitment, pension benefits or other forms of compensation.

-- Empower Iraqis. This should be done by handing over as much as possible
of the administration, day-to-day policy-making and planning powers at the
various ministries. The CPA also should accelerate the holding of elections
at the local and institutional level, ensuring that they are as transparent
and widely publicised as possible in order to maximise popular support and
participation. Above all, it is imperative that Iraqis feel that they have a
stake in the CPA's success and that they cease holding it responsible for
every problem they face. This can only be achieved by ensuring that they
have an important role in running their country so that Saddam's ouster is
not perceived as the substitution of one alien authority for another but
rather as the Iraqi people's chance, finally, to govern themselves.

Baghdad/Amman/Brussels, 11 June 2003

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