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[casi] Important Article - War After the War - What DC Misses in Iraq (New Yorker)

Source: George Packer, "War after the War; What Washington Doesn't See in
Iraq", New Yorker, 24 November 2003


In the shade of a high sandstone arch, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and a
platoon of American soldiers from the 1st Armored Division guard the main
point of entry into Baghdad's Green Zone, the heavily fortified area west of
the Tigris River from which the Coalition Provisional Authority governs
occupied Iraq. The arch was built a few years ago by Saddam Hussein, in
imitation of ancient gates that once protected Baghdad from Persian
invaders. American soldiers now call it the Assassin's Gate.

Early each morning, before the sun grows dangerous, crowds of Iraqis gather
at the Assassin's Gate. Some are job-seekers, others are protesters carrying
banners: "please reopen our factories," "we wish to see mr. frawley."
Demonstrators bring their causes here and sometimes turn into rioters.
People hand out lists naming family members executed by Saddam's regime or
carry letters addressed to L. Paul Bremer III, the top civilian
administrator in Iraq. With the old order overthrown, the Baath Party
authorities purged, and the ministries stripped bare by looters, most Iraqis
don't know where to take their grievances and petitions, where to unload the
burden of their personal histories. So, like supplicants to the Caliph of
ancient Baghdad, they bring them directly to the front gate of the
occupation. But few Iraqis have the credentials to enter the Green Zone, and
there are few, if any, interpreters at the gate. The Iraqis stand on one
side of coils of concertina wire, gesturing and trying to explain why they
must get in; on the other side stand American soldiers in body armor, doing
twelve-hour shifts of checkpoint duty, keeping them out.

One day in July, a tiny woman in a salmon-colored veil stepped out of the
crowd and thrust a handwritten letter at me. She was a schoolteacher, about
thirty, with glasses and thick white face powder and an expression so
pointedly solemn that she might have been a mime performing grief. Her
letter, which was eighteen pages long, requested an audience with "Mister
respectable, merciful American ambassador Pawal Bramar." It contained a
great deal of detailed advice on the need to arm the Iraqi people so that
they could help fight against the guerrilla resistance. The teacher, who was
well under five feet tall, wanted permission to carry an AK-47 and work
alongside American soldiers against "the beasts" who were trying to restore
Saddam or bring Iranian-style oppression. She had drawn up a fake gun permit
to illustrate her desire. She was having trouble sleeping, she said, and had
all but stopped eating.

A man with a cane hobbled over from the line. His left hand, wrapped in a
bandage, was missing the thumb. He explained to the teacher in Arabic that
he had been paralyzed in a car accident while fleeing Kuwait at the end of
the Gulf War, and that at some point he had lost the piece of paper
entitling him to hospital care. Now that the Americans were in charge, he
felt emboldened to ask for another copy-and so he had come to the Assassin's
Gate. The man, unshaven and wretched-looking, began to cry. The teacher told
him not to be sad, to trust in God, and to speak with the American soldiers
at the checkpoint. He shuffled back into line.

"Please, sir, can you help me?" the teacher continued. "I must work with
Americans, because my psychology is demolished by Saddam Hussein. Not just
me. All Iraqis. Psychological demolition." THE HISTORIAN

The Coalition Provisional Authority, or C.P.A., is headquartered in the
Republican Palace, about a mile beyond the Assassin's Gate, down a road of
eucalyptus trees, past bombed state buildings and concrete barriers. The
palace, protected by a high iron gate and sandbagged machine-gun positions,
is a sprawling two-story office building in the Babylonian-Fascist style
favored by Saddam, with Art Deco eagles spanning the doorways. Evenly spaced
along the top of the facade are four identical twenty-foot gray busts of
Saddam, staring straight ahead, his eyes framed by an imperial helmet.
Beneath these Ozymandian tributes, twelve hundred officials of the C.P.A. go
about the business of running the country. Getting in to see one of them, a
senior adviser to Bremer acknowledged, "is like a jailbreak in reverse."
Though it is in the geographical heart of ochre-colored, crumbling Baghdad,
the C.P.A. sits in deep isolation. There are legitimate security reasons for
this: on November 4th, the compound was hit by mortar fire, and four people
were injured.

The Republican Palace is lavishly paved in marble and granite, with mirrored
alcoves, gilded faux-Louis XIV furniture, and, in one vast domed room,
murals of Scud missiles and the Al Aqsa mosque in a Jerusalem without Jews.
Along a second-floor corridor is the office of the C.P.A.'s advisers to the
Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. After the overthrow of
the Saddam regime, a thirty-six-year-old American, Andrew P. N. Erdmann, who
has a doctorate in history from Harvard, became Iraq's acting Minister of
Higher Education.

Drew Erdmann is a rangy, broad-shouldered former rower with a strong chin
and short sandy hair parted in the middle; when I met him during a month's
stay in Iraq, he had a bushy mustache that turned his face into that of a
British colonial official circa 1925. His features and oarsman's physique,
together with those double-barrelled middle initials, prepared me for a
terse Anglophilic bureaucrat. Instead, Erdmann broods. He speaks in long,
reflective sentences that are frequently interrupted by second thoughts and
qualifications; he settles into a faster, more explosive rhythm when
recounting something that angers him-often, his own conduct. He was getting
just a few hours of sleep a night, sharing a cramped trailer on the grounds
of the palace. By his own account, he was short-tempered and close to
nervous exhaustion.

He had just returned from a meeting at which he'd tried not to humiliate a
university president who asked what "operating budget" meant during the
fifth or sixth discussion of the subject. Two weeks earlier, on the campus
of Baghdad University, Jeffrey Wershow, a twenty-two-year-old soldier from
Erdmann's security detail, had been shot dead at point-blank range while
waiting for Erdmann to come out of another meeting. Wershow was the
seventy-first American soldier in Iraq to have been killed since the
overthrow of Saddam. Since then, attacks on coalition forces have doubled-to
more than thirty a day-and grown more fierce, sometimes involving car bombs.
More than a hundred and fifty soldiers have been killed during the first six
months of the occupation, and some twenty-two hundred have been wounded.

I sought out Erdmann in part because his dissertation adviser had been
Ernest May, an authority on historical analogies. I was interested in the
analogies that Erdmann was carrying around in his head for his new job of
nation-building: The British in colonial Iraq? The Americans in postwar
Germany? Lying on a cot in the trailer and fiddling with a Swiss Army knife,
his feet propped on an Army duffelbag, his desk littered with water bottles,
empty packets of Meals Ready to Eat, and unread books on the Middle East,
Erdmann flashed a self-mocking grin. "I can't think historically-there've
been times when I don't even know what I did forty-eight hours before," he
said wryly. "I try. It's like a test for myself. Can I remember what I did
the day before? I eventually can, but it takes effort. That's not a good
situation. You should be able to remember what you did in the last
twenty-four hours."

Hanging on the wall of Erdmann's office was a sign that reminded him of his
mission. It read, "end state: a durable peace for a united and stable,
democratic iraq that provides effective and representative government for
and by the iraqi people; is underpinned by new and protected freedoms and a
growing market economy; and no longer poses a threat to its neighbors or
international security and is able to defend itself."

Erdmann believed in this goal, but he was wary of the lofty rhetoric. One of
his favorite books, which he was trying to find time to reread in Baghdad,
is the French historian Marc Bloch's "Strange Defeat," a firsthand account
of the collapse of France in 1940. Bloch served in the French Army in both
world wars and then joined the Resistance before his capture, torture, and
execution by the Nazis. Erdmann, in talking about his own efforts in Iraq,
more than once cited a passage from "Strange Defeat": "The ABC of our
profession is to avoid these large abstract terms in order to try to
discover behind them the only concrete realities, which are human beings."

The ongoing debate over the war in Iraq has rarely moved beyond abstract
terms to take into account the human beings-Iraqis and Americans alike-whose
lives are affected by decisions in Washington. To Erdmann, success in Iraq
will ultimately depend on the small, concrete actions of individuals on the
ground. The psychological demands of the occupation were daunting, he said,
and added, "Some people can navigate it, some people can't. Some people can
make a mistake and recalibrate, others can't. On both sides." He paused. "So
much of this is up to the wisdom of people-their prudence, their judgment."

Before arriving in Iraq, in April, Erdmann had done a lot of relevant
historical thinking. In his dissertation, "Americans' Search for 'Victory'
in the Twentieth Century," he wrote about Americans' growing realization
that in a military intervention a careful transition from war to peace is as
crucial as battlefield success. "The language that we live with today of
'exit strategy,' and the focus on the 'end game'-that's recent, and part of
this historical evolution," he said.

Erdmann received his Ph.D. in 2000, and promptly abandoned an academic
career. There is something self-punishing and obsessive in his character. A
life spent analyzing military history would be insufficient; he was the sort
of academic who had to know how he would do under fire. He wanted to be a
good citizen more than a good professor.

In early 2001, Erdmann was about to fly to Kosovo and take the first job he
could find-"Anything. Load bags of grain. That's how far away I wanted to
get from academia"-when a call came from Richard N. Haass, who had just been
named director of policy planning at the State Department. By May, Erdmann
was in Washington, working for the Bush Administration. At Harvard, he had
been an Eisenhower specialist, and he entered government in the
old-fashioned spirit of a political independent. "This is a little too
grandiose, but there is a previous tradition in foreign-policy circles of
being more nonpartisan, serving the national interest," he said.

In the summer of 2002, when the Administration began leaning toward an
invasion of Iraq, Haass asked Erdmann to analyze twentieth-century postwar
reconstructions. In fifteen single-spaced classified pages-epic length for a
State Department memo-Erdmann applied the ideas in his dissertation to a
series of case studies from the two world wars through more recent conflicts
such as Bosnia and Kosovo. One of Erdmann's fundamental conclusions was that
long-term success depended on international support. In the short run, he
explained to me one evening, "the foundation of everything is security,"
which partly depended on having sufficient numbers of troops. "You don't
have to look too far to see that isn't the case here. And I don't fault the
people who are here. There's no way any fault should be put on the kids in
the 3rd I.D. or the brigade commanders. The question is, why weren't more
people put in? That was the concern of my project-were we prepared to do
what it took in the postwar phase?"

Last fall, Secretary of State Colin Powell circulated Erdmann's memo to
Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the
national-security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. "Maybe it wasn't read," Erdmann

Erdmann's view that rebuilding Iraq would require a significant, sustained
effort was echoed by the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
Throughout 2002, sixteen groups of Iraqi exiles, coordinated by a bureau
official named Thomas S. Warrick, researched potential problems in postwar
Iraq, from the electricity grid to the justice system. The thousands of
pages that emerged from this effort, which became known as the Future of
Iraq Project, presented a sobering view of the country's physical and human
infrastructure-and suggested the need for a long-term, expensive commitment.

The Pentagon also spent time developing a postwar scenario, but, because of
Rumsfeld's battle with Powell over foreign policy, it didn't coordinate its
ideas with the State Department. The planning was directed, in an atmosphere
of near-total secrecy, by Douglas J. Feith, the Under-Secretary of Defense
for Policy, and William Luti, his deputy. According to a Defense Department
official, Feith's team pointedly excluded Pentagon officials with experience
in postwar reconstructions. The fear, the official said, was that such
people would offer pessimistic scenarios, which would challenge Rumsfeld's
aversion to using troops as peacekeepers; if leaked, these scenarios might
dampen public enthusiasm for the war. "You got the impression in this
exercise that we didn't harness the best and brightest minds in a concerted
effort," Thomas E. White, the Secretary of the Army during this period, told
me. "With the Department of Defense the first issue was 'We've got to
control this thing'-so everyone else was suspect." White was fired in April.
Feith's team, he said, "had the mind-set that this would be a relatively
straightforward, manageable task, because this would be a war of liberation
and therefore the reconstruction would be short-lived."

This was the view held by exiles in the Iraqi National Congress, led by
Ahmad Chalabi. The exiles told President Bush that Iraqis would receive
their liberators with "sweets and flowers." Their advice led policymakers to
assume that Iraqi soldiers and policemen would happily transfer their
loyalty to the Americans, providing a ready-made security force. "There was
a mistaken notion in certain circles in Washington that the Iraqi civil
service would remain intact," Barham Salih, the Prime Minister of the Iraqi
Kurdish administration and a strong advocate for the overthrow of Saddam,
said. A week before the war, he discussed the problem of law and order with
a senior member of the Administration. "They were expecting the police to
work after liberation," Salih told me. "I said, 'This is not the N.Y.P.D.
It's the Iraqi police. The minute the first cruise missile arrives in
Baghdad, the police force degenerates and everybody goes home.' "

In the Pentagon's scenario, the responsibility of managing Iraq would
quickly be handed off to exiles, led by Chalabi-allowing the U.S. to retain
control without having to commit more troops and invest a lot of money.
"There was a desire by some in the Vice-President's office and the Pentagon
to cut and run from Iraq and leave it up to Chalabi to run it," a senior
Administration official told me. "The idea was to put our guy in there and
he was going to be so compliant that he'd recognize Israel and all the
problems in the Middle East would be solved. He would be our man in Baghdad.
Everything would be hunky-dory." The planning was so wishful that it
bordered on self-deception. "It isn't pragmatism, it isn't Realpolitik, it
isn't conservatism, it isn't liberalism," the official said. "It's

On January 20th, President Bush signed National Security Presidential
Directive No. 24, which gave control of postwar Iraq to the Department of
Defense. At the end of the month, the Pentagon threw together a team of
soldiers and civilians, under the leadership of retired General Jay Garner,
in the newly christened Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian
Assistance. orha would administer Iraq after the end of hostilities. The war
was only seven weeks away.

In 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, Garner had led the largely successful
effort to save Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq. Garner and his inner
circle of generals and ambassadors essentially used the same template for
the war in Iraq. orha was divided into three "pillars," as Garner called
them: humanitarian assistance, reconstruction, and civil administration.
Garner's experience in northern Iraq led him to focus on the potential for a
humanitarian disaster: displaced populations, starvation, outbreaks of
disease, prisoners of war, and, above all, chemical-weapons attacks. The
U.N. was warning of the possibility of half a million deaths. orha
thoroughly prepared for each of these nightmares-and if any one of them had
come to pass Garner's foresight would have been applauded.

But in concentrating on possible emergencies he failed to consider the long
view. On February 21st and 22nd, some two hundred officials gathered in an
auditorium at the National Defense University, in Washington, for a "rock
drill"-a detailed vetting of the plans that had been made so far. The drill
struck some participants as ominous.

"I got the sense that the humanitarian stuff was pretty well in place, but
the rest of it was flying blind," one orha member recalled. "A lot of it was
after hearing from Jay Garner, 'We don't have any resources to do this.' "
Plans for running the country's ministries were rudimentary; orha had done
little research. At Douglas Feith's insistence, his former law partner
Michael Mobbs was named the head of the civil-administration team. According
to Garner and others, Mobbs never gelled with his new colleagues. Yet this
"pillar" would turn out to be the one that mattered most.

During the rock drill, Gordon W. Rudd, a professor from the Marine Corps's
Command and Staff College, who had been assigned to Garner's team as a
historian, noticed that a man sitting four rows in front of him kept
interjecting comments during other people's presentations. "At first, he
annoyed me," Rudd said. "Then I realized he was better informed than we
were. He had worked the topics, while the guy onstage was a rookie."

It was Tom Warrick, the coordinator of the State Department's Future of Iraq
Project, and his frustrations had just begun. Two weeks after the rock
drill, after a meeting at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld asked Garner, "Do you have
a guy named Warrick on your team?" Rumsfeld ordered Garner to remove Warrick
from orha, adding, "This came from such a high level I can't say no."
Warrick, who had done as much thinking about postwar Iraq as any other
American official, never went to Baghdad.

The war between State and Defense continues: For months, Feith's office has
held up the appointment of other senior State Department officials to the
C.P.A., even as the organization remains fifty per cent understaffed. The
reports of the Future of Iraq Project were archived. In Baghdad, I met an
Iraqi-American lawyer named Sermid Al-Sarraf, who had served on the
project's transitional-justice working group. He was carrying a copy of its
two-hundred-and-fifty-page report, trying to interest C.P.A. officials.
Nobody seemed to have read it.

The Administration was remarkably adept at muffling its own internal
tensions. On only two occasions did dissenting views become public. The
first was on the subject of money: a reporter from the Wall Street Journal
quoted Lawrence Lindsey, the President's chief economic adviser, floating a
figure of up to two hundred billion dollars for the war and the
reconstruction. This was at odds with the Administration's projection-stated
publicly by Vice-President Cheney and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul
Wolfowitz-that the cost of reconstruction would be largely covered by Iraqi
oil revenue. By April, the White House had requested only $2.4 billion for
postwar rebuilding.

The second rift was over troop deployment. In February, General Eric
Shinseki, the Army's chief of staff, testified before the Senate that the
occupation of Iraq would require several hundred thousand troops. This
prediction prompted Wolfowitz to get on the phone with Thomas White, the
Army Secretary. "He was agitated that we in the Army didn't get it," White
recalled. "He didn't give arguments or reasons. Their view was that it was
going to go the way they said it was going to go." Two days later, Wolfowitz
appeared before the House Budget Committee and said that so high an estimate
was "wildly off the mark." He explained, "It's hard to conceive that it
would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it
would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's
security forces and his Army. Hard to imagine."

On March 16th, three days before the first bombs fell on Baghdad, a hundred
and sixty-nine orha members flew to Kuwait. Among them was Drew Erdmann.

Though he had left academia behind, Erdmann's reasons for going to Iraq
were, in a sense, professional. "My analysis was that we really are at a
turning point in history," he told me in Baghdad. "I had a particular
historical perspective. I felt that this was a defining event which, good or
bad, would have an impact for the next decade. If it went badly, the
consequences would be worse than Vietnam. And, second, the postwar phase was
going to be the most important." Before heading to Iraq, Erdmann had to
justify his plans to his wife, who was skeptical of the need for war. "I
knew if I didn't go I'd always regret it," he said. "And my wife did, too.
She knew that my regret would be corrosive."

Erdmann asked to join the civil-administration team, led by Mobbs. By the
time he reached the beachfront villas in Kuwait where orha had set up
operations, Mobbs's team was in disarray. They were getting more information
about the fighting in Iraq from CNN than from Washington, and nobody even
had an "org" chart of the Iraqi ministries. Garner had decided to divide
Iraq into three (later four) administrative zones, which meant that orha's
maps bore no relation to the country's eighteen governorates.

Gordon Rudd, the military historian, was worried enough to speak to Garner.
"I said, 'We're not putting enough attention on civil administration.' And
he said, in so many words, 'Gordon, that can wait-we've got to focus on
humanitarian assistance.' He was thinking about saving lives, not reforming
Iraq. And at the time that made perfect sense."

"I really like Jay Garner," one orha member told me. "But I never got from
him what the vision was and what we were going to do. To the extent that I
did, it didn't seem remotely realistic to me-that we would be going in there
for three months and we would get everything in order and we would be done."

In Kuwait, Erdmann and some others felt so undirected that they began
looking for tasks. Together they drew up a list of sixteen key sites around
Baghdad that the military should secure and protect upon the fall of the
city. At the top of the list was the Central Bank. No. 2 was the Iraqi
Museum. "Symbolic importance," Erdmann explained. The Ministry of Oil was

On March 26th, the list went to the military war planners at Camp Doha, near
the Iraqi border. Two weeks later, as Baghdad fell and intense looting
began, Erdmann and the others went to Camp Doha to find out what had
happened to their list. They met with a young British officer. "He's sitting
there on the stool in front, in his British desert cammies," Erdmann
recalled. "And he's, like, 'Well, you know, I just became aware of this big
stack of stuff that you orha guys did yesterday.' " The list had fallen into
a bureaucratic gap-and now Erdmann was watching on television as the Iraqi
Museum was looted and the ministries were burned.

One day during the war, Albert Cevallos, at the time a contractor with the
United States Agency for International Development, was standing with a
group of civil-affairs officers at the Iraq-Kuwait border. One officer asked
him, "What's the plan for policing?"

Cevallos's job was in the field of human rights. "I thought you knew the
plan," he said.

"No, we thought you knew."

"Haven't you talked to orha?"

"No, no one talked to us."

Cevallos wanted to run away. "It was like a Laurel and Hardy routine," he
said. "What happened to the plans? This is like the million-dollar question
that I can't figure out."

Timothy Carney, a career foreign-service officer who was called out of
retirement by Wolfowitz to join Mobbs's team, said that the military simply
didn't understand orha's importance. "It was as if these guys didn't have a
clue what Jay Garner was about," he said. "There was no priority given to
the essential aspects of our mission."

Erdmann was impatient with any facile condemnation of the planning effort.
When I mentioned that, in 1944, the United States military had produced a
four-hundred-page manual for the occupation of Germany, he retorted that,
given the available lead time, a fairer comparison would be with the wartime
occupation of French North Africa, which was so beset with problems that it
nearly cost General Eisenhower his job. Erdmann reminded me that, in the
case of Iraq, doing any planning at all was a delicate matter. The
Administration had to prepare for the effects of a war it was still claiming
it wanted to avoid.

"How much diplomacy would there have been at the U.N. if people had said,
'The President is pulling people out of the Departments of Agriculture and
Commerce to take over the whole Iraqi state'?" Erdmann said. "That's the
political logic that works against advance planning."

But the haste and confusion of the planning, the determination to keep grim
forecasts out of public view, the groundless assumptions, the desire to do
it on the cheap-all this left Erdmann and his colleagues poorly prepared for
what awaited them when they finally reached Baghdad, on April 23rd.

An infantry captain in Baghdad gave me his war log for the months of March,
April, and May. The days leading up to the city's fall are crowded with
incidents. But immediately after April 9th, when the statue of Saddam
Hussein was pulled down, the entries turn brief: "Nothing significant to
report, stayed at airport all day doing maintenance and recovery
operations." Meanwhile, the city's leading institutions were being

It remains a mystery why American forces did so little to stop the looting.
Martial law was not declared; it was days before a curfew was imposed
throughout the city. It was as if the fall of Baghdad were the military's
only objective. At a Pentagon news conference, Rumsfeld regarded the chaos
with equanimity. "Freedom's untidy," he said. "Free people are free to make
mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things."

The economic cost of the looting was estimated at twelve billion dollars.
The ruined buildings, the lost equipment, the destroyed records, and the
damaged infrastructure continue to hamper the reconstruction. But on a more
profound level the looting meant that Iraqis' first experience of freedom
was disorder and violence. The arrival of the Americans therefore unleashed
new fears, even as it brought an end to political terror. The Administration
had naively concluded that an imprisoned and brutalized population would
respond to its release by gratefully setting up a democratic society. There
was no contingency for psychological demolition. What had been left out of
the planning was the Iraqis themselves.

"The state disappeared," Erdmann said. "Mostly, either the people melted
away or the institutions were melted down by them." By the time Erdmann and
his colleagues moved into the Republican Palace, which was without doors or
windows or electricity or water, with half an inch of fine desert dust
coating everything, they were already months behind schedule.

Iraqis, who had been taught by Saddam that individual initiative could be
fatal, were waiting to be told what would come next; and no one told them.
Many reacted to the vacuum with a kind of paralysis. "People just stopped
doing everything that they would normally do," an orha official recalled. In
late April, a man in a Shia neighborhood approached Noah Feldman, a law
professor at New York University, who had come to Iraq as a constitutional
adviser, and asked him who was in charge. Nobody seemed to know.

"We were incompetent, as far as they were concerned," Feldman said. "The key
to it all was the looting. That was when it was clear that there was no
order. There's an Arab proverb: Better forty years of oppression than one
day of anarchy." He added, "That also told them they could fight against
us-that we were not a serious force."

In the last week of April, American officials met with three hundred and
fifty Iraqis in the Baghdad Convention Center to discuss the country's
future. Garner was asked by a tribal sheikh, "Who's in charge of our

"You're in charge," Garner answered.

The audience gasped. An American who was present said, "I later realized
they were losing faith in us by the second."

Upon his arrival in Baghdad, Erdmann joined an effort to find the
highest-ranking officials "still left standing" from the Saddam regime-if
only to fire them. But the ministries had been stripped of everything,
including the urinals and pipes. Simply getting out of the palace was
difficult, with few military escorts available. Progress depended almost
entirely on random encounters in the city between American officials and
Iraqi bureaucrats. "You had Iraqis just showing up at work, hoping that
someone from the coalition would stop at their ministry, and saying,
'Welcome. Take me to your leader,' " Erdmann recalled, laughing. "No joke!
It was like, 'I represent the Grand Galactic Federation.' " He cupped his
hands around his mouth to make a ghostly echo. " 'Who are you? And what is
your position?' Then they'd tell you their job, and then it's like, 'What
the hell is that?' "

Owing to the tightfistedness of the Office of Management and Budget, in
Washington, Erdmann and his colleagues initially had roughly twenty-five
thousand dollars for each devastated Iraqi ministry. Getting the money
required grant applications that took several weeks for approval. (This
process was later streamlined.) "To do reconstruction, you need to have the
ability to deliver resources right away," Erdmann said. "People in a
desperate situation need help. Boy, that's a blindingly obvious insight! The
next thing is that if you're not giving them help they're going to go
somewhere else."

After spending just twenty-four hours in the capital, Jay Garner flew north
to Kurdish territory, where he was acclaimed as a hero. He met with the two
Kurdish leaders, Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, to discuss the
political handoff. The Kurds and the opposition leaders who had been in
exile, including Ahmad Chalabi, would form a provisional government in
Baghdad, along with a few "internals"-Iraqis from inside the country. When
these pro-Western Iraqis took charge, the Americans could slough off some
responsibility without giving up power.

Garner recently spoke with me in his office at the defense-contracting
company he now heads near the Pentagon. I asked him if these political moves
had been directed by Defense officials. "I never got a call from anybody
saying, 'Don't do that,' " Garner said. "You follow me?"

But Chalabi short-circuited the plan. According to an Iraqi politician who
was close to the negotiations, Chalabi, along with the Shiite leader
Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, who was killed in an August car bombing, resisted
Garner's idea of including internals-and anyone else who might diminish
their power. "They wanted basically to control who would be there," the
Iraqi politician said.

Chalabi's obstructionism ultimately didn't matter. The handoff scenario that
had been hatched in Washington was disintegrating even as Garner was trying
to carry it out. "The exiles made a big mistake, thinking that they could
ride an American tank into Baghdad and gain legitimacy. It just doesn't work
that way," the Iraqi politician said. Chalabi and the seven-hundred-man
militia of the Iraqi National Congress, which commandeered choice properties
upon arrival in Baghdad, were not acclaimed by their compatriots. ("They may
have looked like a bit of a warlord group," Gordon Rudd said. "I told that
to Garner. He said, 'Gordon, I don't like that word.' ") Making matters
worse, the police and the Army had not defected; they had disappeared.
Criminal gangs proliferated throughout the city.

"All of this was funnelled up to Feith," a senior Administration official
said, "and from Feith to Rumsfeld, and they had a come-to-Jesus meeting and
said, 'We've got to change things fast.' "

In late April, Rumsfeld called Garner to tell him that the veteran diplomat
L. Paul Bremer would be replacing him. It was a tacit admission that the
situation in Iraq was out of control. In an interview, Feith insisted that
Garner's removal was routine and signalled no change of policy. He also
denied that the Administration had been intent on transferring power to
Chalabi. "The idea that we had a rigid plan for the political transition is
a mistake," he said. "We developed concepts, policy guidelines-for example,
organize as much authority as possible in Iraqi hands. That is a policy
guideline. But, as for specific names and timetables and rules, nobody here
presumed to dictate that, because you can't possibly know that. That's like
trying to tell a local commander in advance of the battle exactly how many
people to put where as the fighting proceeds. Nobody can work with a plan
that rigid. Nobody here in Washington is micromanaging."

But Bremer suggested that his appointment was marked "Urgent." "I had ten
days to get ready to come here," he told me in Baghdad. A former diplomat
who had served under Republican Presidents before becoming the managing
director of Henry Kissinger's consulting firm, Bremer was acceptable to
Rumsfeld; his selection represented a brief truce in the war between Defense
and State. By mid-May, he had taken Garner's place. Garner had worn
shirtsleeves and insisted on being called Jay; his successor wore a suit and
was referred to as Ambassador Bremer. orha was dissolved into the Coalition
Provisional Authority, and Bremer, with the status of a Presidential envoy,
the legal imprimatur of a U.N. Security Council resolution, and the command
authority that Garner never had, let it be known that he was in control. The
Iraqi Army was promptly abolished, all members of the top four levels of the
Baath Party were expelled from government service, Chalabi's militia was
disarmed, and the formation of a provisional government was stopped cold.
There was even talk of shooting looters, though it didn't happen.

The Defense Department, which was predicting in early May that troop levels
would be down to thirty thousand by the end of the summer, extended the
deployment of battle-weary divisions indefinitely. What had been envisaged
as a swift liberation had become a prolonged occupation.

To this day, key policymakers maintain their faith in the Pentagon's
original plan. According to a senior Administration official, not long ago
in Washington, Cheney approached Powell, stuck a finger in his chest, and
said, "If you hadn't opposed the I.N.C. and Chalabi, we wouldn't be in this
mess." But one Pentagon official acknowledged that his agency was
responsible for the debacle. "It was ridiculous," he said. "Rummy and
Wolfowitz and Feith did not believe the U.S. would need to run post-conflict
Iraq. Their plan was to turn it over to these exiles very quickly and let
them deal with the messes that came up. Garner was a fall guy for a bad
strategy. He was doing exactly what Rummy wanted him to do. It was the
strategy that failed." THE CAPTAIN

In April, CNN aired footage of a marine in Baghdad who is confronted with a
crowd of angry Iraqis. He shouts back in frustration, "We're here for your
fucking freedom!"

In the months following the overthrow of Saddam, tens of thousands of
soldiers who thought they would be home by June saw their departures
postponed again and again. They are now the occupation's most visible face.
Combat engineers trained to blow up minefields sit through meetings of the
Baghdad water department; airborne troops who jump in and out of missions
spend months setting up the Kirkuk police department; soldiers of the 3rd
Infantry Division who spearheaded the invasion pass out textbooks in a
Baghdad girls' school. The peacekeeping missions in the Balkans gave some of
them a certain amount of preparation, but there was little training for the
concerted effort now required of soldiers in Iraq. Ray Jennings, a policy
consultant who spent several months in Iraq, told me that he encountered
officers running midsized cities who said, "I'm doing the best I can, but I
don't know how to do this, I don't have a manual. You got a manual?" A
civil-affairs captain asked Albert Cevallos for training in "Robert's Rules
of Order 101." Rumsfeld's nightmare of an army of nation-builders has come
to pass in Iraq.

The captain who showed me his war log was a company commander named John
Prior. He is a twenty-nine-year-old from Indiana, six feet tall and stringy.
His youthful face, deadpan sarcasm, and bouncy slew-footed stride do not
prepare you for his toughness.

"Some people are just born to do something," Prior said. By his own account,
he loves Army life, the taking and giving of orders. "The sappy reasons
people say they're in the military-those are the reasons I'm in," he said.
"When the Peace Corps can't quite get it done and diplomacy fails and
McDonald's can't build enough franchises to win Baghdad over, that's when
the military comes in."

His unit, Charlie Company of the 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, is
now based at the Iraqi military academy in south Baghdad. (His soldiers'
sleeping quarters are festooned with crepe-paper decorations from the last
Ramadan.) The academy is next to the bombed ruins of a vast military camp
and airfield that have become home to five thousand displaced people,
looters, and petty criminals. After the fall of Baghdad, it took two and a
half months for Prior's company to arrive at its current location. During
their odyssey in central Iraq, Prior and his men came to realize that what
President Bush, on May 1st, had called the end of "major combat operations"
was just the beginning.

Charlie Company's first mission after the fall of Baghdad sent Prior west to
the town of Ramadi, to retrieve the body of Veronica Cabrera, an Argentine
journalist who had been killed in a highway accident. Prior and his soldiers
were the first conventional forces to enter Ramadi, which was becoming a
center of Baathist resistance. The company was asked by Special Forces and
the C.I.A. to stay on for a few days and help patrol the town. They promptly
found themselves in the middle of an anti-American riot, with insults,
fruit, shoes, two-by-fours, rocks, and, finally, chunks of concrete flying
at them. The Americans didn't shoot and no one was seriously injured; in his
log Prior commends his soldiers for their restraint. In the following days
in Ramadi, and then in the nearby town of Fallujah, Prior records a series
of successful raids on houses and weapons markets. He expresses pride in his
soldiers' resourcefulness. Then something new and strange enters the margins
of his account: Iraqis.

In Ramadi, a man who speaks broken English around other Iraqis suddenly
pulls Prior aside and whispers in flawless English, "I am an American, take
me with you." When Prior tries to learn more, the man reverts to broken
English and then clams up. Another man on another day approaches a soldier
and, speaking perfect English, warns him not to trust Iraqis-that things are
not what they seem. He disappears before the soldier can get more
information. Prior and his first sergeant, Mark Lahan, track down the man at
home with his family. Now using broken English, the man tells them that
everything is fine.

In another mysterious incident, an Iraqi approaches Lahan and abruptly asks,
"How are things in Baghdad? Have there been any suicide bombings? Have any
Americans been killed?" Soon afterward, the guerrilla war starts.

"The entire situation seemed very weird," Prior writes on April 26th, after
five days in Ramadi. "It is clear now that they are not as happy as they say
that we are here. For the first time in a while, I felt extremely nervous
being in such close proximity to Iraqi nationals." In another entry, from
Fallujah, he writes, "The Iraqis are an interesting people. None of them
have weapons, none of them know where weapons are, all the bad people have
left Fallujah, and they only want life to be normal again. Unfortunately,
our compound was hit by R.P.G."-rocket-propelled-grenade-"fire today, so I
am not inclined to believe them."

Prior was among the first soldiers to encounter the hidden nature of things
in an Iraq that was neither at war nor at peace. Firepower and good
intentions would be less important than learning to read the signs. Iraqis,
no longer forming the cheering crowds that had greeted the company on its
way up to Baghdad, were now going to play an intimate role in Prior's life.

The raids in Ramadi and Fallujah lasted almost a month; then Charlie Company
was recalled to Baghdad. There Captain Prior's log ends. "We put trouble
down, we left," he told me. "Trouble came again."

Charlie Company spent its first month back in Baghdad billeted at the zoo.
The soldiers had been there in mid-April, on a mission to escort a truckload
of produce and frozen meat ("A gift from the Kuwaiti people to the Iraqi
people") for the few animals that had survived firefights and were too
dangerous or worthless to steal. I visited the zoo several times, and the
experience was always upsetting. It was the one place in Iraq where Saddam's
regime seemed still to exist. "It was not a zoo, but more of an animal
prison," Prior notes in his log. "Small cages, closely packed, no attempt to
give the animals any sense of natural setting." Dogs and puppies, favorites
of Saddam, lay panting in sweltering cells next to a catatonic blind bear
that had mutilated its own chest. (Some of the dogs had been fed to the
lions during the war, when food supplies ran out.) The soldiers who took
control of the zoo in April found a baboon loose on the grounds; it proved
harmless to them, but when one of the zookeepers, who had been hiding in his
office, was brought out the animal flew into a rage and attacked him, so
that the soldiers had to shoot the baboon to save the Baathist.

Bremer's C.P.A., needing a public-relations victory, refurbished the zoo and
reopened it to the public in July, with great fanfare; the cost was close to
a half million dollars. On a subsequent visit, I found the place, which had
been popular before the war, desolate and nearly abandoned. It was
surrounded by American checkpoints, which discouraged families from
visiting. In September, a group of soldiers at the zoo got drunk after
hours, and one of them reached into the cage of a Bengal tiger with a piece
of meat; when his hand started to disappear into the tiger's mouth, one of
his buddies shot the animal. The Baghdad Zoo seemed to combine the cruelty
and injustice of the old regime with some of the stupidity and carelessness
of the new.

Charlie Company spent a month establishing security in the area near the zoo
and setting up a neighborhood council. Then, in late June, the company was
moved again-to the military academy in south Baghdad-because its zone of
control did not coincide with Baghdad's administrative districts. "We'd made
friends there," Prior recalled. Packing up again, he said, "was not that
cool." He added dryly, "We'd been planning this war since freaking 12
September, and it might have helped if someone had drawn a map before the
war and figured out where everyone went."

According to the brigade's original calendar, Baghdad's infrastructure would
be rebuilt in August, elections would take place in September, and the
soldiers would leave the city in October. This brisk forecast was soon
abandoned, of course. Because of confused planning, it wasn't until August
that Charlie Company's activities began to yield tangible benefits for
Iraqis. And there was no time to lose. Throughout the summer, electric power
operated sporadically, violence of all kinds kept rising, and Iraqis who
could have been won over to the American side were steadily lost.

One morning, I sat in the base-camp canteen with Prior, First Sergeant
Lahan, and their translator, Numan Al-Nima, a gray-haired former engineer
with Iraqi Airways. Prior opened a coalition map of Baghdad's security zones
and showed me the piece of the city he "owns": a rectangle of Zafaraniya, a
largely Shiite slum in south Baghdad. Roughly two hundred and fifty thousand
people live in the area. Prior chairs the new neighborhood council and is in
charge of small reconstruction projects such as renovating schools; he's
also responsible for sewage and trash disposal in his battalion's zone,
which contains half a million people.

"Infrastructure is the key now," Prior said more than once. "If these people
have electricity, water, food, the basics of life, they're less likely to
attack." Sewage, Prior realized, was the front line of nation-building. When
I met him, in early August, Prior was trying to get two hundred thousand
dollars into the hands of Iraqi contractors as fast as he could.

"Show us something," the translator urged Prior. "People are hungry,
starving. They don't believe they got rid of Saddam. If they got rid of
Saddam, give me something to eat. That's why people hate Americans. We don't
hate them because they are Americans. It is because they are the superpower,
but where is the super power?"

We went out into the streets of Zafaraniya, travelling in the usual
two-Humvee convoy, complete with gunners. Captain Prior's mission that
morning was to visit nine pumping stations, which directed the district's
untreated sewage into the Tigris and the Diala Rivers. To study a Shiite
slum's sewage is to understand that Saddam reduced those parts of Iraq he
didn't favor to the level of Kinshasa or Manila. Green ponds of raw waste,
eighteen inches deep, blocked the roads between apartment houses where
children played. The open ditches that were the area's drainage system were

"How foolish of me not to realize that the open sludge flowing past the
children is the way the system is supposed to work," Prior remarked. A
complete overhaul of the system was not his immediate priority. "I'm going
to support their open-sewage sludge line and get it flowing," he said. The
heat rose, the streets stank, and Prior moved in battle gear at such a
businesslike pace that two engineers from another battalion struggled to
keep up. Each of the pumping stations, in various states of disrepair, was
maintained and guarded by an Iraqi family that lived in a hovel on the
premises, tended a lush vegetable garden, and kept an AK-47. Prior had never
studied civil engineering-and he reminded me that his unit contained no city
planners-but he already seemed to have mastered the inner workings of the
Zafaraniya sewer system. Lahan told me, "People have said the Army's done
this before, in '45 with Japan and Germany. Unfortunately, none of those
people are in the Army anymore, so we have to figure it out ourselves."

With Prior, there were no earnest attempts to win hearts and minds over
multiple cups of tea. He was all brisk practicality, and the Iraqis he
worked with, who always had more to say than Prior gave them time for,
seemed to respect him. "I will get you the money," he told a grizzled old
man who was explaining at length that his pump was broken. "Six thousand
U.S.? Yeah, yeah, great. Get started."

Later, we visited Zafaraniya's gas station, another of Prior's
responsibilities. Initially, he had devoted his energy to getting customers
to wait in orderly lines. "In a lot of ways, you're trying to teach them a
new way of doing things," he said. " 'Teach' might be the wrong word-they're
capable, competent, intelligent people. We're just giving them a different
way to solve certain problems."

Prior's mission that day was to settle a price dispute between the
gas-station managers and the community, which was represented by several
neighborhood council members. A meeting took place in the gas-station
managers' cramped back office, equipped with an underperforming
air-conditioner. The council members wanted three hundred litres of diesel
set aside every week for neighborhood generators. The managers wanted
written permission from the Ministry of Oil.

The council members pulled out authorizations signed by various American
officers. Prior tried to move the discussion along, but the Iraqis kept
arguing, until it became clear that the problem went beyond a dispute over
diesel. One of the most hierarchical, top-down state systems on earth had
been wiped out almost overnight, and no new system had yet taken its place.
The neighborhood councils are imperfect embryos of local democracy.
Confused, frustrated Iraqis turn to the Americans, who seem to have all the
power and money; the Americans, who don't see themselves as occupiers, try
to force the Iraqis to work within their own institutions, but those
institutions have been largely dismantled.

Flies were landing on Prior's brush cut. "Guys, we've been talking about
this for twenty minutes," he said to the council members. "Do what I say. Go
to the Oil Ministry. Just do it-just be done with it. Then you won't have to
have slips of paper and we won't have to have this conversation."

Everyone was getting irritated. One of the council members told Prior that
other Iraqis suspected them of making millions of dinars off public service.
They were considered collaborators; their lives had been threatened.

Prior changed his tone and lowered the pressure. "I would tell all of you
candidly that you have a very tough job," he said. "We are not paying you,
your people are angry and frustrated, and I know they take out their anger
on you, and I really thank you for what you're doing. They may not
understand or appreciate it now, but I'm telling you, your efforts, they're
what are going to transform this country."

There was a commotion outside the office-loud, accusatory voices. Prior put
on his helmet and flak vest, grabbed his rifle, and went out to the pumps.
Customers had left their vehicles, a crowd had formed, and it was getting
ugly enough that the soldiers who had been waiting by the Humvees were
trying to intervene. Amid the shouting, Prior established that an employee
of the Oil Ministry had come to collect diesel samples from each of the
pumps for routine testing. One of the council members was accusing him of
stealing benzene.

"No accusations!" Prior said. "Let's go see."

The crowd followed him under the blinding sun to the ministry employee's
truck. Five metal jerricans stood in back. Prior opened the first can with
the air of making a point and sniffed: "Diesel." He opened the second:
"Diesel." As he unscrewed the cap on the third jerrican and bent over to
smell it, hot diesel fuel sprayed in his face.

Everyone fell silent. Prior stood motionless with the effort to control
himself. He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed them with his fingers. The
fuel was on his helmet, his flak vest. A sergeant rushed over with bottled
water. Then the chorus of shouts rose again.

"Everybody shut up!" Prior yelled. "I'm going to solve this. What is the
problem? No accusations." His face wet, he began to interrogate the accusing
council member, who now looked sheepish.

"How do you know someone gave him benzene? This is a great object lesson,
everybody!" Prior was speaking to the crowd now, as his translator
frantically rendered the lesson in Arabic. "You came out here and said this
guy's a thief, and everybody's angry and he's going to get fired-and now
you're backing down."

"It wasn't just an accusation," the council member said. "The guy drove up
on the wrong side-"

"But what proof do you have that he did it? Wait! Hold on! I'm trying to
make a point here. How would you like it if my soldiers broke into your
house because your neighbors said you have rocket-propelled grenades, and I
didn't see them but I broke into your house-how would you feel? Stop
accusing people, for the love of God!"

"I caught him red-handed," the council member insisted.

"No, you didn't."

"O.K., no problem."

Prior wasn't letting it go. "There is a problem: the problem is that you
people accuse each other without proof! That's the problem."

Prior's treatise on evidence-gathering and due process ended. The crowd
dispersed, and the meeting resumed inside. Prior tried to laugh off the
incident. "Who doesn't like diesel in their eyes?" he joked. Later, he told
me, "I wish I hadn't lost my temper. It wasn't the diesel-it was the way
they kept bickering."

That afternoon, two of the council members, Ahmed Ogali and Abdul Jabbar
Doweich, invited me for lunch. Both men were poor, and neither had a home he
was proud of, so we ate chicken and rice in the living room of Ogali's
brother-in-law. Ogali, a thirty-three-year-old gym teacher, said, "Today was
a small problem. If I told you about our problems, you wouldn't believe it.
They exhaust us." Both men were working without pay-they couldn't even get
cell phones or travel money from the C.P.A. "Prior is doing more than his
best," Ogali said. "But he's also controlled by his leaders."

Doweich, an unemployed father of four, had spent eight years in prison under
Saddam for belonging to an Islamist political party. He still hoped for an
Islamic state in the future-as did eighty per cent of Iraqis, he added.

"That's his personal opinion," Ogali interrupted. "It's not eighty per

For now, Doweich saw working with Captain Prior on the neighborhood council
as the best way to serve his country. The expectations of Iraqis were
falling on the council members' heads, and Doweich believed that, at levels
well above Prior, American officials had no interest in solving problems.

"The people are watching," Ogali said. "When I come back at night, they're
waiting. They want to know what we're doing. Last week, I told them about
the schools, the sewer projects. They were happy-but these are very old
projects, they were promised for a long time."

Doweich suggested that the Americans give a hundred dollars to every Iraqi
family. That would take the edge off people's frustration. "I can't say why
the Americans don't do these things," he said. "Iraqis have trouble
understanding Americans."

Ogali said that, sadly, the reverse was also true. The Americans, he told
me, "came here to do a job, and that's what they'll do. Iraqis work closely
with them, but they don't try to understand us."

American soldiers have a phrase for the Iraqis' habit of turning one another
in. Prior once used it: "These people dime each other out like there's no
tomorrow." With these betrayals, Iraqis play on soldiers' fears and
ignorance, pulling them into private feuds that the Americans have no way of

The night after the meeting at the gas station, Prior and a few dozen
soldiers from Charlie Company went out in two Humvees and two Bradleys to
look for a suspected fedayeen militiaman. For such missions, Prior used a
different translator: a strapping young guy with an aggressive manner. I
expected to see the rougher side of Prior and Charlie Company that
night-these were soldiers, after all, not civil engineers.

The suspected fedayeen happened to be named Saddam Hussein, and he was High
Value Target No. 497. It would be the Americans' second visit to his house.
The tip had come from a plump informant whom Prior called Operative Chunky
Love, and whose intelligence had already tagged three men in the
neighborhood, including his brother-in-law. Tonight, Chunky Love was
supposed to show up at his sister's house, near Saddam Hussein's, in an
orange garbage truck loaded with weapons-a sting operation. Lahan warned me,
"Out of a hundred tips we've gotten from Iraqi intelligence, one has worked

Recently, Prior had experienced what he called an epiphany. He and his
soldiers were searching a man's house on what turned out to be a false
accusation. "And I just realized-we're on top," he said. "Rome fell, and
Greece fell, and I thought, I like being an American. I like being on top,
and you don't stay on top unless there's people willing to defend it." It
was a feeling not of triumph but of clarity-and a limited kind of empathy.
"I thought, What if someone did this to my family? I'd be pissed. And what
if I couldn't do anything about it? And I thought, I don't want this to
happen to me or my family, and we need to maintain superiority as the No. 1

Tonight's target was a village along a dirt road, on a peninsula where the
Diala River doubles back on itself. At sunset, Prior pulled up before a yard
where a cow was grazing. A middle-aged woman came to the gate. She was the
sister of Saddam Hussein and the wife of one of the men picked up on Prior's
last visit.

"Saddam Hussein?" she said. "The President? He's not here." She laughed
nervously. Prior did not; his dry humor was not in evidence tonight. "Saddam
Hussein moved out with his wife and children," she said. "I don't know where
they went."

"She's lying," the translator told Prior, in a thuggish tone. Prior told the
woman that he wanted to search the house. A younger woman who looked ill was
trying to calm a crying baby.

The search of the bedroom turned up nothing: pictures of a young man with
his girlfriend, love notes, Arab girlie photographs.

I went back into the living room, which was nearly bare except for a
television. An old Egyptian movie was on, without sound. The woman with the
baby was retching in the doorway. Speaking Arabic, the middle-aged woman
exclaimed, "We were happy when you Americans came to get rid of the
dictator-and now here you are searching our house." Her two sons, about six
and ten, were standing against a wall and staring at the soldiers. They
would never forget this, I thought-big strangers in uniforms, with guns, who
had already come once and taken away their father, speaking a strange
language, walking through their home, removing things from closets.

The bedroom that Prior had searched turned out to be the wrong one. Saddam
Hussein's bedroom was locked, and the woman couldn't produce a key. A
soldier arrived with an axe; three blows with the blunt end broke open the
door. The younger woman's retching grew louder. This search, too, was
fruitless. Saddam Hussein was long gone.

Night had fallen while we were inside. As we left, the translator taunted
the woman: he said her brother was wanted because his name was Saddam
Hussein. When Prior heard this, he snapped, "Tell her the truth-he's wanted
for being fedayeen." By morning, I was sure, the translator's remark would
have made its way around the neighborhood as an example of American
justice-baseless arrest, accusation without proof.

The woman brought up her husband's case. Why had he been taken away?

"Because he's fedayeen," Prior said. "He's Baath Party."

"No! No! No!"

"Tell her he's in detention," Prior instructed the translator. "That if he's
guilty he'll be kept there. If he's not, he'll be processed and released."
(A few days later, he was let go.)

Out on the road, Prior shone his flashlight on an old man sitting on the
ground. "Why did you lie to me last time we were here and say he was just
gone for the day? Tell Saddam Hussein that he's a fugitive from coalition
justice, and when he returns he should turn himself in to coalition forces
immediately. Let's go, we're out of here."

We drove farther down the road and parked in front of a tall hedge. The
house behind the hedge was owned by Chunky Love's sister. Prior and another
soldier moved along the hedge under the palm trees and a full moon. Prior
called out into the silence, "Salaam alaikum"-"Peace be with you."

The translator turned to me. "Like Vietnam."

I was having the same thought. I knew that it was a limited analogy, more
useful for polemic than for insight, but at the moment Iraq did feel like
Vietnam. The Americans were moving half blind in an alien landscape, missing
their quarry and leaving behind frightened women and boys with memories.

There was no sign of Chunky Love or his orange garbage truck full of
weapons. His sister hadn't seen him in a month; when she did, she told the
translator, she would kill him for turning in her husband.

Prior realized that he'd been pulled into a family feud. The sister was told
that her husband would be released. Prior called this the "hearts-and-minds
moment," but the sister did not look grateful.

"What do you think, First Sergeant?" Prior asked Lahan on the way back to
the base.

"I think we should disassociate ourselves from any information from Chunky
Love," Lahan said. Operative Chunky Love had gone from informant to

Prior marvelled over how many flatly contradictory stories he had heard from
the same people during his two visits to the neighborhood. He admitted that
he would never get to the bottom of them all. "I'm not freaking Sherlock
Holmes," he said. Then he deadpanned, "I'm just an average guy, trying to
get by."

Later, I asked Prior whether his night work threatened to undo the good
accomplished by his day work. He didn't think so: as the sewage started to
flow and the schools got fixed up, Iraqis would view Americans the way the
Americans see themselves-as people trying to help.

Others at Prior's base are less sanguine. His battalion is under serious
strain: In their first six months of deployment, some soldiers had only
three days off. Others are stretched so thin that, one soldier told me,
they've been reporting "ghost patrols" back to headquarters-logging in
scheduled patrols that didn't actually take place. Prior wants to make a
career in the Army, but many other junior officers plan to quit after their
current tour. Alcohol use, which is illegal for soldiers stationed in Iraq,
has become widespread, and there have been three suicides in other
battalions at the base.

At the end of a four-day patrol rotation, relations between young Americans
and the Iraqis tend to deteriorate, according to one officer, into "guys
kicking dogs, yelling at grown men twenty years older than they are, and
pushing kids into parked cars to keep them from following and bothering
them." In September, soldiers in a platoon from Charlie Company were accused
of beating up Iraqi prisoners. All the soldiers suffer from the stress of
heat, long days, lack of sleep, homesickness, the constant threat of attack
(about which they are fundamentally fatalistic), and the simple fact that
there are nowhere near enough of them to do the tasks they've been given.

For some reason, this last point continues to be controversial in
Washington. Rumsfeld echoes his generals' assurances that no additional
American divisions are needed. Meanwhile, Iraq's borders remain basically
undefended and its highways unpatrolled; tons of munitions lie around the
country unguarded. Overburdened soldiers have begun to lose hope even as
their work begins to show results.

One soldier at Prior's base recently wrote me a lengthy e-mail:

The reason why morale sucks is because of the senior leadership, the brigade
and division commanders, and probably the generals at the Pentagon and
Central Command too, all of whom seem to be insulated from what is going on
at the ground level. Either that or they are unwilling to hear the truth of
things, or (and this is the most likely), they do know what is going on, but
they want to get promoted so badly that they're willing to screw over
soldiers by being unwilling to face the problem of morale, so they continue
pushing the soldiers to do more with less because Rummy wants them to get us
out of here quickly. These people are like serious alcoholics unwilling to
admit there even is a problem.

His letter concluded:

There are great things we're doing here, much has already been done, yet
much more remains to be accomplished, and what we need now is the money,
people, and most importantly, time to do it. We'll win, that's for sure, and
this won't be another Vietnam; I truly believe that.

In early November, Captain Prior spoke with me on the phone from Baghdad.
The sewage ponds have been cleaned up, and security in his sector has
improved with better intelligence. The council members are now being paid
sixty dollars a month and run their own meetings. Abdul Jabbar Doweich has a
job as a security guard. But, for various reasons, Prior's division has
stopped paying for new reconstruction projects, and current projects are
running out of funds. Hearing this, I remembered something Prior had said as
we were driving into Saddam Hussein's village: "The most frustrating thing
is we can't do more for them. My hands are tied-everyone's are." THE SHEIKH

"The human committee for prisonners and lossners international," said the
sign on a side street in Kadhimiya, a Shiite neighborhood in the northern
part of Baghdad. The sign indicated a two-story building that was office and
home to Sheikh Emad al-Din al-Awadi. The sheikh had spent almost ten years
in Saddam's prisons, where he had formed a clandestine prisoners' group. Now
that Saddam was gone, he was becoming an important man in Baghdad. Like
other Shiites, he was eager to fill the vacuum of postwar Iraq with his own

On April 12th, word reached the sheikh that the central market building in
the expensive Al Mansour district was on fire. Before the war, the security
police had stowed millions of prisoner files in the building's basement. Now
the Baathists were trying to destroy the files, and the sheikh and a handful
of associates, armed with knives, raced across town to salvage the evidence.
Other groups were already on the scene, but the sheikh's group managed to
carry away carloads of files and microfilm to Kadhimiya, along with a melted
Canon microfilm reader. The sheikh understood that these documents, stored
in pink and green folders, represented not just the past but the future.

They now fill old metal file drawers stacked to the top of his
high-ceilinged office; they sit in nylon grain sacks under the banana tree
in his yard; they bake on his rooftop under the desert sun. More arrive from
various locations every week; the sheikh possesses only a fraction of the
records of imprisonment and execution left behind by the old regime.

Men and women come from all over the country to the sheikh's office and comb
through the files that his followers have alphabetized, hoping to discover
the fate of a lost son or cousin. Though the sheikh denies that he has any
political ambition, the service has made him a man to whom Iraqis bring
problems and requests.

One afternoon, a doctor arrived from a town about an hour northeast of
Baghdad. He said that he was an ear-nose-and-throat specialist; one night in
1995, he was ordered by local Baath Party officials to cut off the ear of a
young Army deserter. "I told them it is not probable to do this at night,
and I am not ready for this psychologically," he recalled. "They told me,
'You must cut it even if you are cutting it with your teeth-or we will cut
your ear.' " This punishment was conceived by Saddam Hussein's son Uday, and
in the months before Uday turned to other ideas, the doctor severed
forty-seven ears.

"I had a feeling of nonexistence, a feeling of guilt," he explained. "I am
trying to satisfy myself that I had no choice."

The doctor had come to the sheikh's looking for information about his
brother, an emotionally disturbed man who was arrested in 1992 for cursing
Saddam. "I think he was still alive until last year," the doctor said. He
left without finding his brother's file.

Sheikh al-Din al-Awadi is in his forties, short, round-bellied,
dark-complected. He habitually wears a black cloak, white vest and
pantaloons, pointed slippers, and a white turban, which signifies a Shiite
not descended directly from Muhammad. Though he kept his wife hidden and his
forehead bore the dark bruise of fervent prayer-and in his inner office
there was a portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini-the sheikh was a worldly man, a
sensualist, a lover of impish jokes. He once amused me with a description of
a pornographic spy tape that he had somehow obtained, featuring a female
Baathist agent seducing a Sudanese diplomat. The bushy beard, the full lips,
the bug eyes behind thick black-rimmed glasses, and the sonorous voice
prompted me to think of him as Ayatollah Allen Ginsberg.

The sheikh received me on several occasions in his pale-green sitting room,
where we were served tea and enormous lunches. "I am one of the regime's
victims," he once began-whereupon the power failed, his electric fan died,
and the sheikh continued, "and one of the facts of the new regime is that
the electricity has gone off." He sat with his legs drawn up in a vinyl
swivel chair, sweat pouring from under his turban, and I felt compelled to
apologize on behalf of the Americans for the terrible state of Iraq's
utilities. His way of sizing me up-eyebrows arched, amusement playing on his
lips-suggested from the start that our relationship would be marked by
seduction and manipulation.

The sheikh had an agenda: he wanted me to introduce him to important
Americans. At our first meeting, he asked, "Did they come here to pay a
visit, or did they come to put their hands on the country?" At our second
meeting, he welcomed me with a kiss on both cheeks and said, "I like you. I
feel that I've known you for years." At our third, he said, "There are
hidden bodies swimming in the sky. Maybe our hidden bodies met in the sky
before we met each other, and that's why we get along so well." At our
fourth, when I came with several C.P.A. officials who had thousands of
dollars to dole out to groups like his, he exclaimed, "George must have some
Arab blood!"

The sheikh was born near the town of Hilla, which is south of Baghdad, into
a family of tribal chiefs, and he grew up studying religion at a Shia school
of theology in Najaf. He pursued broad interests: Catholic doctrine, the
writings of Nostradamus, Arabic poetry, Greek philosophy. In Najaf, he also
met and came to admire Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, who spent his exile there
in the late seventies. It was the beginning of Shia political activism in
Iraq, and in 1977 the sheikh was arrested at a demonstration in Karbala.
After a year, he escaped from prison and ended up in Saudi Arabia. But the
Saudi government betrayed him to Iraqi intelligence, he said. He remembers
being drugged and sent back in a box to Baghdad, where he endured a year of
interrogation at General Security headquarters. He was tried and sentenced
to life in prison; before being sent to Abu Ghraib jail, he was beaten with
cables for three days. "They wanted to make me taste torture, so that I
would know this is a terrorist jail," he said.

The sheikh spent seven years in a special ward, sharing a cell the size of
his current sitting room with fifty other men. It was so crowded that they
took shifts lying down. Visitors were not allowed. The guards were punished
if they failed to show sufficient cruelty. Pen, paper, and books were

Yet the sheikh described his prison years with nostalgia, and listening to
his tales I began to understand why the religious Shia have been the first
Iraqis to seize the new opportunity with purposefulness. In prison, the
sheikh became a leader. He settled differences that arose over food and
sleeping space. When the guards distributed oranges on Baath Party holidays,
the sheikh saved the rinds to treat his own and others' stomach troubles.
Using the broken tips of vials of distilled water, he scratched out a
theological tract on nylon sacks, and when the known Baathist spies were
asleep he preached to his clandestine group. By chance, Abdul Jabbar
Doweich, the Islamist member of Prior's neighborhood council, had shared the
sheikh's cell through the eighties. The sheikh taught Doweich and the other
prisoners about wilayat al-faqih, a system of government in which ultimate
power resides with one Islamic jurist. Doweich recalled, "In prison I was
happy, because I lived under Islam."

The sheikh said that he wanted the Americans to leave fairly soon, but in
the meantime he had established good relations with the Army captain
responsible for security in his area and had got what he could out of him (a
faulty generator). The sheikh was also trying to cultivate Elahe
Sharifpour-Hicks, a human-rights officer working at the United Nations
offices in Baghdad. The sheikh had given her a wish list; it included eight
computers, four vehicles, a guard, a generator, an air-conditioner, and a
new building.

Sharifpour-Hicks found the sheikh charming and dangerous. She had grown up
in Iran as a revolutionary; she had taken part in the overthrow of the Shah
and then seen the mullahs break all their promises of freedom and democracy.
She was certain that the same thing was happening in Iraq.

"This ayatollah is hooking the international community by using prisoners'
tales," she said. "No one should underestimate these ayatollahs, and I'm
afraid the Americans are doing this." As we spoke over lunch at the U.N.
cafeteria in Baghdad, she became upset. "There are many like him. The dream,
the model, the idea is to come to power the same way as in Iran." She found
the Americans' reluctance to interfere maddening; the religious factions
were growing stronger, and secular groups were too frightened to make noise.
"The Americans are very shy and afraid to look like an occupier. They say,
'Oh, we want the Iraqis to lead.' But what kind of Iraqi should lead?"

The Americans haven't known how to handle the Shia problem. For months,
Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical son of a murdered cleric, who has an armed
following among unemployed young men in the vast Shiite slum that was once
called Saddam City and is now known as Sadr City, was regularly busing his
Baghdad followers a hundred miles south to Najaf for Friday prayers, and
staging rallies. He runs a newspaper, which in July published the names of a
hundred and twenty-four Iraqi "collaborators"-people who worked with the
Americans-and at least one was subsequently assassinated. He has pushed his
followers toward armed confrontation with the occupiers. In October, al-Sadr
declared himself the head of the government of Iraq. The C.P.A. has since
taken steps to limit his influence, and in recent weeks al-Sadr has toned
down his anti-American rhetoric. But he remains a source of concern. "He is
close to the line," Hume Horan, a senior C.P.A. adviser on religious
affairs, said. "The prevailing opinion is that taking him into custody could
turn him into a big martyr. But there are those in the C.P.A. who believe
that the delay in taking action has allowed the evil genie to escape from
the bottle." As for the chances of an Iranian-style theocracy being imposed
by the Shia majority in Iraq, Horan said, "Absolutely zero. Not a chance in
the world."

When I told the sheikh that the C.P.A. funded Iraqi civic groups like his,
he urged me to set up a meeting with Americans and pumped me for advice.
"Take my side with them," he pleaded.

Dave Hodgkinson, a former Army lawyer and the C.P.A. official responsible
for "transitional justice," went with me on my next visit to Kadhimiya. On
the drive from the Green Zone, he said that there was "word on the street"
that the sheikh was aligned with extremist Shiite tendencies-perhaps with
Moqtada al-Sadr. I asked if that would keep the C.P.A. from funding him.
"Only if the money would go for bazookas," Hodgkinson said. "If he's just
anti-coalition, if he wants us out, all the better."

In his sitting room, the sheikh regaled us with prison stories. At one
point, he was so overcome that he had to excuse himself. When he opened the
door to his inner office, I noticed that the Khomeini portrait had

Five minutes later, he came back. "I'm sorry to bother you with this
conversation," he said.

"It's very important for us to hear," Hodgkinson said sympathetically.

"Let's talk about the prisoners' association," the sheikh said.


"Do you want me to continue the story, or talk about the association?" the
sheikh asked. And there was another half hour of personal history.

The subject of the files created some awkwardness. The Americans wanted the
sheikh to acknowledge that the files needed to be put in a centralized
storage area, where they could be accessed for the prosecution of crimes
against humanity. The sheikh agreed: "But this will take many years, many
files will be burned, and many heads will be cut off. So I want to build a
storehouse to keep them in-it will be safer because it will be under the
care of my tribe."

He saw that he had moved the Americans with his presentation. The C.P.A.
soon decided to fund his project. So far, the sheikh has received
forty-three thousand dollars in American aid.

The last time I went to see the sheikh, I asked him what kind of government
he wanted for Iraq. He ignored the question; there were three C.P.A.
cell-phone applications he wanted me to fill out, for himself, his wife, and
his six-year-old son. For the first time in my presence, he unwrapped his
turban-and suddenly he was a balding, sweaty, pushy man. Our mutual
enchantment was coming to an end.

I finished the applications. "Dave Hodgkinson heard you might be a follower
of Moqtada al-Sadr," I said.

"Moqtada al-Sadr! He's a small man. He doesn't have a fraction of the level
of my religion." The sheikh was convincingly outraged. "Those who said this
to Mr. David are my enemy."

I said that Hodgkinson and the C.P.A. didn't seem to care about his

"That's good," he said. "But we must fix this idea about me." I knew that he
was worried about his funding. "If it's proved I follow some line or am a
member of any political party, I will stop working and sit at home."

What did he think of Iran's system? I asked.

"Are you working for an intelligence agency?" the sheikh demanded, staring
at me with no hint of the charmer's smile. Then he took me rather roughly by
the chin. "I'll make you calm by this answer-I'll cool your heart. Trust me,
and I'll tell you honestly: I believe in Socrates and his circle. There's a
line in the middle." He drew an imaginary line across a wooden coaster that
was on his desk. "One side is hot, the other cold. This is the middle. As
the philosopher believed, the best is the middle. Is that enough for you, or
do you have other questions?"

A few days later, I received an e-mail from Elahe Sharifpour-Hicks. She had
gone to see the sheikh that day. "He is in good shape," she reported. "He
has now at least two computers and a generator." THE ADMINISTRATOR

The leisure reading of American officials I met in Iraq tended toward sadly
pertinent history: guerrilla wars and botched peace efforts. Colonel William
Grimsley, an infantry brigade commander, was reading "A Savage War of
Peace," Alistair Horne's study of the French-Algerian conflict. "Lots of
similarities to this place," Grimsley told me. A young lieutenant I met had
brought a copy of "Four Hours in My Lai." Drew Erdmann was bogged down in
David Fromkin's "A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire
and the Creation of the Modern Middle East." No one at the C.P.A. had much
time to read, though, or to think.

The bookshelves that lined Paul (Jerry) Bremer's office at C.P.A.
headquarters were nearly bare when I visited him in August. Rudolph
Giuliani's "Leadership" was on one shelf; a book about the management of
financial crises was on another, near a box of raisin bran. On Bremer's
desk, next to a wood carving inscribed "success has a thousand fathers,"
were several marked-up reports about postwar Iraq. A pile of maps detailing
Iraq's power grid, administrative districts, and railroad lines sat on a
coffee table.

Bremer, who is sixty-two, has the thick hair, boyish eyes, and willful jaw
of a Kennedy. He was wearing a white shirt with rolled-up sleeves, khakis,
and combat boots. An intelligent, disciplined technocrat with an even
temperament, Bremer almost always seems focussed on the operational: he has
mastered the interconnectedness of Iraq's utilities and can rattle off
dozens of budget numbers. A question about the historical precedents for his
position led him almost directly to the urgent need for a twenty-kilowatt
generator at an oil refinery in Basra. Iraq is a non-stop crisis, and the
C.P.A. exists in a temporal as well as a spatial bubble; any attention to
the past or to a future beyond thirty days is a luxury.

Bremer speaks directly to Iraqis every week on television and radio. He also
meets with dignitaries around the country. He is personally popular and is
regarded as modest and hardworking; according to a recent Gallup poll, twice
as many Baghdadis approve of him as disapprove. (President Bush, by
contrast, has more detractors than supporters.) His approach to the task of
leading a chaotic foreign country toward self-rule is largely technical.
Under pressure or criticism, he resorts to figures. Throughout the harsh
summer, Bremer explained over and over that the power outages came from a
lack of capacity in the system, aggravated by looting, sabotage, and the
collapse of civil administration. But when he announced in August, "We're
going to be thirty to thirty-five per cent short once we get everything
working," Iraqis didn't understand why the superpower couldn't do better.
(The electricity situation has improved considerably.) When Bremer tells
them that they're now free to take responsibility for their own lives, that
message, too, often fails to sink in.

Bremer is aware of the deeper problems of the occupation. "You have to
understand the psychological situation that Iraqis are in," he said when I
asked why Iraqis appeared to appreciate so little of what the C.P.A. has
done. "They went from this very dark room to the bright light in three
weeks. It's like somebody just threw a switch. And your mentality, if you're
an Iraqi, still is: It's the government that fixes things. The government
fixed everything before, for better and for worse-they did everything. And
here comes a government that can throw out our much-vaunted Army in three
weeks, so why can't they fix the electricity in three weeks?"

The psychological gap between Iraqis and the C.P.A. remains wide. Most of
Bremer's confidants are Americans. When he leaves the palace, it's
necessarily under heavy security. "It is an epistemological problem," one of
Bremer's senior advisers said, describing the experience of leaving the
Green Zone. "You wonder, 'What's going on out there?' You sniff, and then
once you're out you overanalyze."

Of course, the C.P.A.'s isolation and inaccessibility are also partly
deliberate. "I've just reorganized the strategic-communications center
here," Bremer told me, a day after ordering one of his aides not to speak
with me. The situation is compounded by the failure of the C.P.A.'s own news
outlet. The Iraq Media Network produces a mixture of C.P.A. announcements
and Arabic music videos-programming so reminiscent of TV under Saddam's
regime that most Iraqis get their information from Al Jazeera and Iranian
broadcasts instead. The C.P.A. has thus far squandered the chance to begin
the civic education that will be vital for Iraq's transition to democracy.
As with so many other aspects of the occupation, the origins of the problem
lie in Washington: the insipid programming reflects the Pentagon's desire to
proclaim freedom in Iraq without doing the harder, riskier work of helping
Iraqis create the necessary institutions. In this sense, the intellectual
failures of the planning continue to haunt the occupation.

One searing day, I joined Bremer's press pool, following him by Chinook
helicopter as he hopscotched across the southern desert. The first stop was
a maternity hospital in Diwaniyah; its former director, a gynecologist, now
serves on the Governing Council, the American-appointed Iraqi interim
authority. Bremer, who forces himself to endure a suit and tie at public
appearances, was received by local dignitaries in kaffiyehs. He told them,
"We of the coalition are glad that we were able to provide you with your
freedom from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. You now have that freedom
and you now have a better hope for the future." He recited a long list of
statistical improvements in Iraq's health-care system, and concluded: "In
May, five hundred tons of drugs were shipped in. Last month, we shipped
thirty-five hundred tons-a seven-hundred-per-cent increase in shipments in
three months."

The dignitaries applauded. In turn, they presented Bremer with lengthy
supplications. Then he paid a visit to the wards upstairs. Bremer travels
with a contingent of aides and security guards; this phalanx swept down the
second-floor hallway past startled doctors and into rooms where even more
startled mothers and infants lay in beds. His aides gave him stuffed animals
to present to the patients. In one room, a skeletal baby lay in its mother's
arms. On a nearby bed, a toddler lolled against its mother's body, mouth
open. This was sickness, maybe even the approach of death, not childbirth.
The smile died on Bremer's face. "I don't like seeing this at all," he said,
and asked the photographer to stop taking pictures.

Downstairs, I fell into conversation with a couple of young doctors. They
said that the electricity was on only because we were here-it had been off
all week. The interruptions to power had doubled infant mortality here:
without proper incubation, the rate was now seven to ten deaths per day. The
hospital had several broken generators; a Marine Corps reservist had told me
that with twenty thousand dollars in repairs the generators could provide
the hospital the power it needed. The infant-mortality rate would be cut by

Christopher Harvin, one of Bremer's press aides, gravitated toward us. "Are
you happy with Saddam gone?" he asked the young doctors. "You are happy that
he's gone? Things are better now?"

"Yes," Dr. Kassim al-Janaby said, mustering a smile. "Yes."

"What's the best thing about Saddam being gone?" asked Harvin, pushing the
conversation back on message.

"Only one-I think only one," Dr. Mohamed Jasim said. "Only the free talking.
Only only only. But no doing. No doing."

"Do you think over time it gets much better?"

"Yes, we are thinking the next time it gets better," Jasim said.

"Patience? Yeah?"

"We need continuous electricity," Dr. al-Janaby said flatly. "Security in
our city also is not until now. That's it. Also the salary."

Harvin, a veteran of George W. Bush's primary campaign in South Carolina,
was undeterred. "But don't you think with time it will get better? What can
we do?"

"Security," one of them said.

"Americans? Iraqis? Both working together?"


"So . . . the economy will stabilize the looting?"

Bremer's C.P.A., like any government, tries to control news coverage-I
received five separate official e-mails alerting me to the arrival of a
shipment of fifty-four thousand soccer balls at Baghdad International
Airport-and officials complain that the press has failed to present the
positive side of the Iraq story. There is some truth to the charge that
journalists focus on bad news in Iraq (as they do everywhere), covering the
rising daily death toll and street protests more energetically than sewer

At the same time, the C.P.A.'s good news doesn't always bear scrutiny. The
health figures that Bremer cited at the Diwaniyah hospital were undercut by
a chance conversation I had the next day with Dr. Jean-Bernard Bouvier, then
of the British medical charity Merlin. The Ministry of Health had become an
empty shell, without central control, Bouvier told me. Nobody had any
information about inventory at the warehouses of the central pharmacy. "They
said they've put out six hundred tons-of what?" he asked. "If it's twelve
trucks of I.V. fluid, I don't give a damn." According to Bouvier, sixteen
tons of drugs were dumped on a single clinic, and the stacks of boxes left
no room for patients.

Two months earlier, Bouvier had drawn up an Emergency National Distribution
Plan for Drugs; he had heard no response from the coalition. (His
suggestions, which were supported by the World Health Organization, were
eventually rejected.) A veteran of many disasters, he found that the
expertise of organizations like his kept falling into a void at the C.P.A.
"They don't see the fragility of the system," he said. "It's not that
children are starving yet, but it's a structure that is slowly crumbling.
You can degrade a society bit by bit, but then you reach a point where you
just crash."

In the view of many critics, Bremer's decision to abolish the Iraqi Army and
purge high-level Baathists from the civil administration only added to the
tumult in Iraq. As Jay Garner put it, the immediate result of the May 16th
order was the creation of "four hundred thousand new enemies." Even some of
Bremer's advisers now acknowledge that cutting loose an army with guns and
without pay was a serious mistake. The C.P.A. reinstated salaries on a
six-month basis after deadly demonstrations outside the Assassin's Gate, but
the damage to security and pride was already done. One of Garner's
lieutenants, who had been working closely with Iraqi officers, was shocked
by Bremer's dissolution order. "From the Iraqi viewpoint, that simple action
took away the one symbol of sovereignty the Iraqi people still had," he
said. "That's when we stopped being liberators and became occupiers."

To others, such as Barham Salih, the Kurdish leader, the mistake was in the
manner of implementation, not in the order itself. "You cannot build a new
Iraq while retaining that instrument of repression," he said. Earlier this
month, Bremer seemed to acknowledge that abolishing the Army had not been a
good idea when he ordered that the recruitment and training of a new Army be
speeded up.

Bremer's de-Baathification order similarly put at least thirty-five thousand
civil servants-engineers, professors, managers-out of work. The firings were
based on rank, not conduct, and, inevitably, qualified Iraqis lost their
jobs just when their expertise was needed most. American soldiers told me
that the deputy director of the Baghdad Zoo, a Baathist, had been the
hardest worker on the staff.

Whatever the bureaucratic and human cost, Bremer's May 16th order was a
symbolic break with the totalitarian past, and the Baath Party went the way
of the Nazi Party. For Drew Erdmann, who had to fire more than sixteen
hundred Baathist university professors and staff members in May, this is one
area where the German analogy is apt, and he bristles at any notion that
academic freedom might be at issue. "In June, 1945, you're not going to have
a discussion about the legitimacy of the Nazi ideology," he said. "It's not
academic here! The people are still living next door, working next door, on
campus, they're still around, they're still threatening."

Erdmann explained his support for de-Baathification by telling me about the
"Saddam bonus." On the scale of the dictator's crimes, the Saddam bonus was
a minor yet illuminating atrocity. Under Iraq's college-admissions system,
students were ranked by test scores, and, with thousands applying for a
limited number of openings, a few points made a great difference. The Saddam
bonus awarded ten extra points to high-school boys who married widows of the
Iran-Iraq War-women often twice their age. The last Baathist Minister of
Higher Education under Saddam had withdrawn the points of certain applicants
after determining that the marriages were fraudulent. "These guys came to me
so they could get back their bonus points," Erdmann explained. "Me, the
American coalition guy! They think I'm going to give them fricking Saddam
bonus points for a fake marriage?" Baathism, he concluded, had "penetrated
in such a twisted way" that a strong response was required.

The day after Bremer's de-Baathification order, Erdmann went to Baghdad
University, in the city's south, at a bend in the Tigris. Baathist
university presidents across Iraq had been dismissed, and Erdmann had
decided that new administrations should be elected by the faculties.
(Nominees had to be approved by the C.P.A.) These would be among the very
first elections in Iraq, and they were not without risk. Erdmann's reasons
were both practical and principled. "Look, I don't know what the hell is
going on at any particular university," he explained. "With the bad
communications all over the country, we couldn't go to each one and make the
appointments in any informed manner. But the principle of getting the
faculty involved-it's real. It's not for show." Seven hundred people jammed
Baghdad University's sweltering auditorium, and when the votes were counted
the faculty had elected as president a biochemist who was widely respected
for his integrity under Saddam. "You had people coming out of there saying,
'This is the first time we've seen anything like this,' " Erdmann
remembered. As for the deposed university president, a high-ranking Baathist
physician, he was shot dead two months later at his clinic while writing a

One morning, I accompanied Erdmann to Baghdad University. Until that day, I
never quite understood his constant tension, his irritability, his ferocity
about remnants of the old regime, the sense he conveyed that this was still
a kind of combat. His team travelled in two civilian cars, staying in radio
contact; in the seat next to me, Erdmann shoved a clip into his 9-mm.
Beretta. The campus was largely empty-it was the summer recess-but there was
a group of about thirty men standing under a tree in the plaza near the
parking lot. They were de-Baathified professors, and as Erdmann walked past,
his pistol hidden under his shirt, three of them fell into step with him.

"Are you Dr. Andrew Erdmann?" one professor said. "We have some forms." The
men looked middle-aged, neatly dressed, and downcast. They displayed copies
of the Agreement to Disavow Party Membership, with their signatures.

"The only exceptions are granted by Ambassador Bremer," Erdmann told them.

"We need your help about the situation."

"I understand the disruption in your life. But I hope you understand the
coalition's May 16th proclamation."

"But we've done absolutely nothing that-"

Erdmann said that he couldn't promise anything. "Some of your colleagues
don't deserve exemption," he said. "Some should return and some should not."

"I realize that," the professor said. "But our income now is absolutely
zero. We can do absolutely nothing. There is no job we can do."

The men under the tree were watching us. One of Erdmann's Iraqi colleagues
from the C.P.A. said, "Let's keep moving."

Another Iraqi approached. "Let's get out of here," Erdmann said. "I'm about
to have a serious sense-of-humor deficit." We walked away, toward a white
pillar at the edge of the plaza. Behind it was a glassed-in cafeteria. An
anti-Baathist poster was taped to a wall: "there is no room here for those
whose hands drip with the blood of innocents."

"This is where it happened," Erdmann said. "This corner. The body was lying
there. I pulled the car up here."

Around noon on July 6th, while Erdmann was meeting with unesco
representatives in the building across the plaza, Jeffrey Wershow, an
infantryman assigned to provide him security, walked alone into the
cafeteria with his helmet off and bought a ginger ale. Wershow was an only
child, a lawyer's son with an interest in politics; he was a specialist in
the Florida National Guard. Wershow was standing near the pillar, holding
his ginger ale, when a man approached and shot him in the head. The
assassin, who is thought to be a Yemeni engineering student, disappeared
into a crowd of students. By the time Erdmann sprinted across the plaza,
shouting, his gun drawn, soldiers had cleared the crowd and wrapped
Wershow's head wound. They placed him in the back of Erdmann's Chevy
Suburban, and Erdmann drove off the campus to an improvised landing zone.
Wershow was alive when the helicopter arrived, but he died before reaching a
military hospital.

That evening, Erdmann tried to clean the bloodstains out of the car with
detergent. He and his superiors agreed that he should go back to campus the
next day. ("I can't let the last image of us be tearing out of town,"
Erdmann thought at the time.) Whenever he ran into a soldier from Wershow's
unit, Erdmann would say to himself, "One of them got killed because of me."
He told me, "That's the way I feel. I don't necessarily think that's the way
they feel-I wouldn't put that on them-but that's what happened."

Erdmann, recounting the story two weeks later in his trailer behind the
palace, smiled in his mirthless way. "Guy got killed so I could go and talk
to some people from unesco." "WE ARE STILL AFRAID"

Dr. Baher Butti is a small, nebbishy man of forty-three who treats patients
in crisis at the Ibn Rushd Teaching Psychiatric Hospital, in central
Baghdad. He also dispenses antidepressants and antipsychotics of some
previous generation to the long-term cases in a locked hospital at the
city's eastern edge. Dr. Butti sees private patients as well, and he's made
it his goal to offer sensitive therapy in a country where psychological care
hasn't always been distinguishable from the methods of the security police.

Dr. Butti is Christian but thoroughly secular; a worrier, he keenly feels
Iraq's isolation from the modern world under Saddam, and is concerned by the
rising danger of Islamic fundamentalism. Like many members of the urban,
downwardly mobile middle class, he doesn't know which way to turn: he is
equally distrustful of the American occupiers and of new Iraqi political
movements. He once attended a meeting with C.P.A. officials on the subject
of forming local nonprofit organizations, and concluded that to get funding
he needed to be a fundamentalist.

With a few old classmates from Baghdad's Jesuit High School, Dr. Butti was
setting up the Baghdad Rehabilitation and Development Group. One of its
proposals was the construction of the Gilgamesh Center for Creative
Thinking. In the prospectus, Dr. Butti wrote, with perhaps a bit of

A great number of Iraqi people are suffering a great deal because of the
severed communication with the civilized world, they suffer from lacking the
ability to communicate with the others, they have lost the hope in the
future, they suspect anything foreign, they are not sufficient in their
professional performance, they don't feel enough responsibility towards the
society, they lack the power to experience freedom, they don't comprehend
the correct performance of democracy, they cannot deal with group working .
. . etc. Rebuilding what the war has destroyed is a simple effort if
compared with the task of rebuilding the distorted human person.

The Gilgamesh Center, Butti wrote, would be a place where Iraqis could learn
such skills as "logical and rational thinking," "how to dialogue and discuss
with others," and "secrets of the successful negotiation." It was hard to
think of a better idea for the reconstruction of Iraq, but, unlike Sheikh
Emad al-Din al-Awadi, Dr. Butti was having trouble finding money.

"They lack the power to experience freedom": the phrase helps explain why
the moment of good feeling was so short after the liberation of Baghdad.
Iraqis were told they were free, they expected to be free, they had been
waiting for years to be free-but they still didn't feel free. And so a
depression set in almost at once. Akila al-Hashemi, a former diplomat and
one of three women who was appointed to serve on the Governing Council, told
me that she represented "independent liberal democrats"-what she called "the
silent group." Al-Hashemi said, "We are still under the shock, we are still
afraid." She was fifteen in 1968, when the Baath Party took power. "Now I'm
fifty. You see? You can imagine-can I change in two days, in two months, in
two years? We need to be reeducated, rehabilitated." She said of her
constituents, "They were happy after the fall of the regime. But then there
was an act of sabotage against this joy, against this happiness. It's not
accomplished, you see. This feeling you have-ah, yes!-but then it's not
accomplished. This is frustrating."

In April, a young exile named Ammar Al Shahbander returned to Baghdad full
of high hopes and bold ideas, only to find his countrymen stuck. "They are
so normalized to the Baath and the fear and the death and the terror that
they can't see the advantages now," he said. "When you tell them they have
such a great opportunity to express their opinion, they don't give a damn.
They don't have anything to express."

In downtown Baghdad, I met a stage director named Abdulillah Kamal, who sat
smoking with a group of actors in the front office of his two-thousand-seat
theatre. Kamal was about to resume performances of the play that had been
showing when the bombs started to fall, in March. I asked why he didn't
stage something that he couldn't have under Saddam, something new-for
example, a satire of the occupation. He brushed the notion aside. "The play
is out on the street. All Baghdad is a theatre. We are the audience. We
don't need to do a play." But it would pack the house, I said, and it would
give Iraqis the bonding experience of art. "Could I talk about Bremer and
Bush?" the director asked skeptically. I was unable to persuade Kamal that a
satire wouldn't be censored-but I also sensed that the idea made him uneasy
for deeper reasons. It would demand an act of imaginative courage that was
probably beyond his power. Finally, Kamal confided that he had in fact
written a new play. It was called "Masonica," crossing "Masonry" with
"America." He told me that the play would reveal the "hidden thing that
happened in America on 11th September." Apparently, a conspiracy theory was
as far as Kamal's mind would go.

The thousands of foreign soldiers, officials, contractors, and humanitarians
working in Iraq often find themselves in the position of the American sea
captain in Melville's novella "Benito Cereno," who cries to the Spaniard he
has rescued from a slave mutiny, "You are saved, you are saved: what has
cast such a shadow upon you?" But in Iraq, alongside the paranoid theories
and the justifiable fears harbored by the "distorted human person," I
constantly encountered an intense longing for some nameless, better
future-especially among young people.

When I was at Baghdad University, I met two young women in the hallway of
the administration building. "We must go out of Iraq!" one of them, Aseel
Hatem Shouket, exclaimed. "We must travel! We must see America! Can you give
us hope?"

Shouket is a pale, pretty twenty-eight-year-old computer programmer who
works for the university administration. Her cream-colored veil seemed
incongruous, given her vitality, and in fact it was just a prop: she wore it
to keep from being killed by fundamentalists.

There were many fears in Shouket's life. She was afraid of kidnappers: a
group of them had snatched her friend as she got off the bus; Shouket had
barely managed to run away. She was afraid of her neighbors, who said that
they would harm her if she took another picture of American soldiers. She
was afraid of the woman who ran her office, a former Baathist who used to
wear a uniform and sidearm to work, and whose three framed photographs of
Saddam were still propped up on the floor, facing the wall.

"Do you feel danger here? I feel danger," Shouket said as we spoke in her
office. "I feel a life in prison-after liberation! I want to see the world,
I want to learn more, I want to feel I'm getting something important for my
life." She paused. "Danger is still in the streets. In this room. Especially
in this room."

The office manager walked in and glared. She told Shouket that I would have
to leave.

"I have no freedom," Shouket whispered.

I offered to drive Shouket home. She lived with her parents and an uncle who
had become mentally ill after imprisonment and torture. Their modest house,
in an underbuilt new neighborhood of eastern Baghdad, stood baking in the
relentless yellow light of midday. They served me a dish of rice and beans.

During the war, Shouket's mother had written a Koranic verse in chalk on the
living-room wall; it was a prayer for safety that the family recited
together. On another wall hung a photograph of her mother's parents, from
1948-a man with a small mustache, a woman with bright lipstick.

"During royal times, the people were more modern than now," Shouket's father
said. He was an architect in the Ministry of Information. In 1965, he had
studied in Manchester, England, but the family now belonged to Iraq's
beaten-down middle class.

Before the war, Shouket's pay had been six dollars a month; the Americans
raised it to a hundred and twenty dollars. The family passionately supported
the Americans. If this was colonialism, Shouket was ready to be colonized.
She had wept watching the war on TV, urging the 3rd Infantry Division on to
Baghdad; the bombs exploding outside had given her heart. Now, every
Saturday, the family sat down together and listened to Bremer's weekly
address. "I feel him very close," Shouket said. "Even his way, I like
it-he's a simple man."

"The Americans should change the region," Shouket's father said. He
predicted that Iranians would be inspired to revolt "if they saw what
happened in Iraq, and we progress by liberation and wealthy life."

Her veil off, Shouket wore her hennaed hair in a long braid. She brought out
her large collection of American movies-she had learned English from
watching Nicole Kidman in "Moulin Rouge" and Sharon Stone in "The Quick and
the Dead." She said, "It needs time, I think, a very long time, to make
connection between the two civilizations. To make us civilized, I mean."

Shouket sat on the couch between her sad-faced parents and talked excitedly
about her future. "I'm always saying to my mother, 'I lost my life.' And she
says, 'No, you're young, there's still time.' And I say, 'Maybe.' Maybe now
I'll catch the rest of my life to see the world." She went on, "I want to
leave Baghdad, I want to be free. Just improving myself-my mind, my way of

Her mother was on the verge of tears; her parents were afraid for her to
leave Iraq. Shouket put her arm around her mother and touched her father's
hand. "He believes in me," she said.

When I rose to leave, they offered me their family heirlooms. I declined by
saying that the gifts would be confiscated at the Jordanian border. Outside,
Shouket's mad uncle was pacing, holding a glass in his hand. I was thinking
how isolated the family seemed. They had no political party or religious
militia, no ayatollah or tribal sheikh; they had only the Americans, who
didn't know of their existence. Shouket had never spoken to a foreigner
before the morning we met. She wanted to travel, but she was too frightened
to go into town and set up an e-mail account at an Internet cafe. The
pressure of her yearning filled the small room.

At the door, Shouket smiled. "Do you think my dreams will come true?" THE

Nobody searched me on the August day I went to the Canal Hotel, where the
United Nations had its offices, to see Sergio Vieira de Mello, the
Secretary-General's special representative in Iraq. His staff occupied a
hall on the third floor, but before going to Vieira de Mello's corner suite
I stopped to talk with his political adviser, a Lebanese professor and
former culture minister named Ghassan Salame. Vieira de Mello and Salame had
met only a few months earlier, when the career international civil servant
from Brazil asked the political veteran from Beirut to help him in what
seemed to be an impossible assignment: representing the U.N. in occupied
Iraq under a Security Council resolution that gave it no real authority. "He
said he knew nothing of Iraq," Salame said, "and less of me."

It had been a particularly bad week in Iraq: continuing power failures,
numerous ambushes, explosions at an oil pipeline in Kirkuk and a water main
in Baghdad, fatal riots in Basra, and a devastating car bomb at the
Jordanian Embassy.

Salame was thinking about the situation historically. "My deep feeling is
that the problem is not in Baghdad but in Washington," he said. "Those who
decided this war and did it and won it are not the type of Americans Arab
countries have been used to in the past fifty years. This is not the Corps
of Engineers, this is not the American pragmatist." Salame, a brusque man
whose thick black eyebrows blend together, fiddled with a strand of gold
worry beads. "They are new Americans, Americans with an ideology, with a
master plan, with interests-missionaries."

I pointed out that these new Americans were not unlike some of the old
Americans who had fought the Cold War. Salame seized on the comparison.
"When I listen to Mr. Wolfowitz, I feel that he mistakes Baghdad for Berlin
in 1945," he said. "He doesn't know the place." Salame was particularly
critical of the C.P.A.'s efforts to transform the Iraqi economy. "This
country does not need at all the kind of sweeping privatization that these
guys back in Washington are looking for."

Vieira de Mello's office was at the end of the hall, overlooking a service
road and a nearly completed security wall built to within one metre of the
hotel. When I walked in, he had his jacket off, but as he sat down across
from me at a coffee table his perfectly pressed suit pants, sky-blue shirt,
sleek gray hair, and resonant film actor's voice confirmed his reputation as
an elegant diplomat. Vieira de Mello's U.N. career had taken him from
Cambodia and Rwanda to overseeing the early reconstruction of Kosovo, and,
finally, to playing a role in East Timor similar to that of Paul Bremer in

Upon arriving in Baghdad in early June, Vieira de Mello tried to help the
Americans out of the trap in which they found themselves, and to help the
Iraqis. Bremer, having taken charge of a project in jeopardy, seemed
unwilling to loosen his grip. An advisory council of Iraqis with no
substantive powers was the only proposal on the table other than complete
American control.

"My message from Day One, to them and to Jerry Bremer in particular, was:
This won't fly," Vieira de Mello said. He told Bremer that the council
needed executive powers. "You've got to give them responsibilities, even
though you might be ultimately challenged."

Vieira de Mello, Salame, and others began having conversations with leading
Iraqis around the country. It was this effort that expanded the ranks of
what became the Governing Council, adding people who had lived under Saddam
and represented constituencies inside Iraq. Vieira de Mello's task required
all his diplomatic skill. He once spent hours convincing a representative
from the main Shiite group that joining the council would not be political
suicide. When Bremer objected to the appointment of a Communist, Vieira de
Mello got him to change his mind, arguing that it was vital to include
secular Iraqis. In mid-July, the new twenty-five-member Governing Council
became the first indigenous authority in Iraq since the fall of Saddam.
"Over half would not have been there if Jerry could have had it his own
way," Vieira de Mello said.

So far, he admitted, the Governing Council had functioned "in a kind of
cocoon"; ordinary Iraqis weren't sure what it was for. Nonetheless, he was
confident that the council would eventually succeed. "I wouldn't be touring
countries in the region trying to sell the Governing Council if I didn't
believe what I'm saying," he said. "Because the last thing I need and the
organization needs is to be marketing the interests of the United States."

He outlined an ambitious timetable for the full transfer of sovereignty to
Iraqis: interim ministers and a constitutional commission by the end of
2003; a new constitution by early 2004; general elections in the spring.
During this period, he said, the U.N. would play an increasingly central
role in the reconstruction.

As the Secretary-General's representative in Iraq, Vieira de Mello had
reason to snipe at the Bush Administration, which had spent much of the past
year ridiculing, bullying, and snubbing the U.N. In Iraq, the U.N.'s profile
was so low that Vieira de Mello admitted feeling irritated and embarrassed
by his "total lack of authority." But, because he was pragmatic, and because
he had once been in Bremer's role, he refused to be churlish. "I don't want
to be unfair to people who are up against an almost impossible task, having
myself done similar things," he said.

I asked how greater U.N. involvement early on might have changed the
situation in Iraq. "We could have helped, and we would have been only too
happy to do so, also pointing to our own mistakes-because unless you admit
why things went wrong you won't be heard," he said. "We could probably have
done that. We still can. There's still time." He looked at his watch; in a
few minutes he had a press conference downstairs.

Six days later, at 4:30 p.m. on August 19th, a flatbed truck pulled up
alongside the new security wall under Vieira de Mello's office. American
forces had blocked off the road with a five-ton truck, but the U.N., because
it was uncomfortable with a heavy military presence, had asked that the
obstacle be removed. Vieira de Mello was sitting at the coffee table with
several staff members and visitors when a thousand-kilogram bomb exploded.
At eight-fifteen that evening, as soldiers helped clear away the rubble,
Ghassan Salame identified the body of his friend.

Twenty-one others died with Sergio Vieira de Mello. Ten days later, at the
end of Friday prayers, an even more powerful car bomb killed Ayatollah
Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, the spiritual leader of the largest Shia party, and
ninety-four others, outside the holiest mosque of Shia Islam, in Najaf. And
on September 20th Akila al-Hashemi was shot in the abdomen as she left her
house to drive to a meeting of the Governing Council; she died five days
later. By the beginning of November, the number of foreign U.N. personnel in
Iraq had dwindled from six hundred and fifty people to about forty, with
none in Baghdad. "SOME TYPE OF DEMOCRACY"

Drew Erdmann left Baghdad in late July, for meetings in Washington and to
see his wife, in St. Louis. They spent a beautiful Saturday morning walking
through the dazzling green of an organic market, but he felt remote, as if
he were looking at the world through a thick pane of glass. He woke up every
morning before dawn, just as he did in Baghdad, feeling the stress of what
remained to be done. It was nearly impossible to tell his wife what he'd
been doing. He felt dizzy, his hands shook with nervous energy, and he
wanted to get back to Iraq.

Erdmann had been offered a position at the National Security Council, in
Washington, as Director for Iran and Strategic Planning. When he returned to
Baghdad in August, he told me that he didn't want to leave Iraq, but,
because it meant being closer to his wife, he would take the job.

I saw him recently in Washington. He wouldn't talk about his current work,
but, in any case, the only subject that interested him was Iraq. His
debriefing at the White House had lasted only a few minutes. "They don't
like us much, but they like the alternatives less," he told Condoleezza
Rice, and the conversation moved on. He found that no one in Washington, in
or out of government, really understood what it was like in Iraq. The gap
between headquarters and the field, he said, is profound. "I sound like
'It's Khe Sanh, damn it! Charlie's inside the wire!' " he said, laughing
grimly and adopting a Dennis Hopper tremor. "You don't understand, man!"

Erdmann could point to certain successes in his own sector: the resumption,
in October, of Fulbright scholarships will help restore intellectual
connections between Iraq and the world. He said that he was still unable to
think as a historian. He joked that he hoped never to write a book on Iraq
called "Strange Defeat."

This fall in Baghdad, terror bombings, assassinations, and firefights have
become common occurrences. According to the Pentagon, around five thousand
guerrilla fighters are responsible for the violence. In mid-October, Captain
John Prior was driving by the Baghdad Hotel when a car bomb exploded,
killing six Iraqis. As the ranking officer, he set up a cordon and helped
evacuate the dead and wounded. He told me that Iraqis who might have
countenanced attacks on American soldiers were bewildered by the recent
bombings: "They don't understand why Iraqis are being killed."

Perhaps the escalating terrorism in Baghdad will drive Iraqis toward their
occupiers. But it seems equally possible that the mayhem will be blamed on
the continuing American presence. A classified C.I.A. memo sent to the White
House last week brought the grim news that more Iraqis were supporting the
insurgency-and that many believed that it would force the United States out.
Last week, the Pentagon tried to indicate its resolve: Lieutenant General
Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, pointedly used
the word "war" for the first time to describe the guerrilla attacks,
promising an aggressive campaign in Baghdad to restore order. Shortly after
Sanchez's announcement, I received an e-mail from Aseel Shouket, who seemed
unconvinced. She wrote, "We are very afraid of the thought that the
Americans would leave under pressure."

Not long ago, I met Ghassan Salame in the lobby of U.N. headquarters in New
York. He was helping Secretary-General Kofi Annan frame a new international
consensus on Iraq. The debate is now about timetables for restoring
sovereignty to the Iraqis. Salame was proposing a swift return to Iraqi
self-rule, but cautioned that the country was not ready for elections. Those
Iraqis who wanted democracy and not just power were telling Salame that
elections would consolidate the hold of the most sectarian and extremist
groups; the moderates had barely begun to organize.

The Bush Administration is pursuing a different approach. Last week, Bremer
was urgently recalled from Baghdad for talks in Washington. During a
meeting, he was reportedly told that the C.P.A.'s timetable, which was to
delay elections and self-rule until the creation of a new Iraqi
constitution, needed to be abandoned. The White House now seems determined
to move up elections to the middle of 2004; it is also considering the
creation of a new sovereign body of Iraqis that would supersede the
Governing Council, perhaps by the end of the year.

But an accelerated timetable for Iraqi elections, along with the C.P.A.'s
hurried attempts to recruit a new Iraqi Army, suggests that the hunt is on
for an "exit strategy" as America enters its own election year. There is no
reason to think that turning things over to divided Iraqi politicians and
inexperienced troops will lead to a better outcome. If the Administration
hastily adopts policies in order to claim success in Iraq, it will have
returned to the wishful thinking that helped make the occupation a
continuous crisis.

"Iraq needs to be liberated-liberated from big plans," Salame said. "Every
time people mentioned it in the last few years, it was to connect it to big
ideas-the war against W.M.D.s, solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, the war
against terrorism, a model of democracy. That's why all these mistakes are
made. They're made because Iraq is always, in someone's mind, the first step
to something else."

In our last conversation in Washington, Drew Erdmann said that it made no
sense to claim any certainty about how Iraq will emerge from this ordeal.
"I'm very cautious about dealing with anyone talking about Iraq who's
absolutely sure one way or the other," he said.

Before we parted, I asked Erdmann how he would define success in Iraq. His
answer was humbler than the official "End State" declaration that had been
affixed to his office wall in Baghdad. Still, given the concrete realities
of what is now happening in Iraq, it was enormously ambitious.

"Success will be if there's a private sphere where they have some real
choice in what they do with their lives, and a public sphere where they can
have some control over their destiny and the state doesn't visit arbitrary
violence on them," he said. "This means some type of democracy. It won't be
Jeffersonian democracy, with farmers plowing the godforsaken sands outside
of Nasiriya. Some would say, 'That's modest.' But it isn't. It will be huge.
And it'll be something uniquely Iraqi. They don't have to love us, or even
like us-why should they? We liberated them, but the fact that we had to do
it adds to the trauma of coming out of decades of totalitarian rule. It's
difficult for us. We look at ourselves and say, 'We have really good motives
and try to do the right thing and why don't people appreciate it?' That's an
American thing. Few Iraqis are ever going to step forward and say, 'I really
love the C.P.A.' They'll have to live here long after we're gone. They have
legitimate interests, and we shouldn't treat them as children-they're not.
If in five or ten years they can look back on this period and believe that
they're better off, then things will be O.K. We'll be able to move beyond
this period to where things are normal between the United States and Iraq."
He paused and shrugged. "In a way, success will be if the Iraqis don't hate


Nathaniel Hurd
Consultant on Iraq policy
Tel. (Mobile): 917-407-3389
Fax: 718-504-4224
777 1st Avenue (E. 44th St./1st Ave.)
Suite 7A
New York, NY  10017

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