February 13, 2006

February 13, 2006 | Commentary on Middle East

Back to Rebuilding: The Next Challenge in Iraq

Conventional wisdom has long been that without security in Iraq, political and economic progress would be stymied. But a corollary is becoming equally true: Halting advances in reconstruction and economic development are hampering progress on the political and security fronts.

Just last week, in Senate hearings on Iraqi reconstruction and stabilization, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said: "If Iraqis perceive that their daily lives are improving, they are more likely to take risks to oppose insurgents and restrain factional groups that seek to fragment the country."

Lugar is right: While many factors likely doom the insurgents' cause, their bloody campaign gains from the absence of marked progress in improving the lives of everyday Iraqis - especially the Sunnis.

The insurgency remains significant - but near-hopeless. It has failed to develop any clear ideology beyond spilling blood and twisting metal. None of its groups proposes anything resembling a positive agenda for Iraq's future.

At the moment, the insurgents offer Iraqis either: a) an authoritarian Saddamist jackboot once again set squarely on their collective Sunni/Shia/Kurdish necks, or b) the imposition of al Qaeda's repressive Islamist sharia law. What kind of choice is that?

Unfortunately, the good guys - that's us - face the same sort of dilemma. We've done a solid job of providing the Iraqis with a positive vision for their political future and improving security for most Iraqis - but haven't done as well in convincing the average Iraqi that the prospects for his economic future are bright.

My sources in Iraq say that the greatest danger is that we're losing the active support of the common Iraqi, especially the Sunnis. Without economic development, this swing group could become wholly passive toward - or actively support - the insurgency, allowing the Saddamist dead-enders and al Qaeda killers to prosper.

As recent audits and congressional testimony reveal, progress in reconstruction and economic development has been (to be kind) less than adequate. Some programs are riddled with both mismanagement and corruption.

In testimony to the Senate last week, the Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction noted some was grim: Only about one-third of planned water/sewage projects and two-thirds of electricity projects will be completed without more funding, beyond the $18 billion already allocated to reconstruction.

And the State Department's senior advisor on Iraq, James Jeffrey, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that nearly half of U.S. funding for Iraqi reconstruction to date - meaning $6 billion of $13 billion - has been diverted to security.

Despite a massive effort that has brought lights, clean water and sewage disposal to millions of Iraqis, the insurgents have kept oil production and electricity generation below pre-war levels by masterfully attacking Iraq's 4,350 miles of pipelines, high-voltage lines and power plants.

Credit the U.S. government, and most contractors, with good intentions. Cut some slack for the fact that the Coalition has had to work with three different Iraqi governments, countless ministries and contractors over the last few years. But the bottom line is: These results aren't good enough.

So what needs to be done?

*Get deadbeat donors to pay up: The international community pledged $13 billion toward Iraqi reconstruction at the 2003 Madrid donor conference. To date, those nations have delivered just $3 billion; the Middle East states are the worst offenders. Arm twisting to pay up is needed - now!

*Increase hi-visibility projects: Schools, clinics, hospitals - even generators - are a great way to make the locals stakeholders in the community's future. These crowd-pleasing, tangible projects also give Iraqis a key reason to oppose the insurgency's destructive ways.

*Publicize plans and results: All Iraqis need to see that there is both an economic-development strategy and progress on the ground, especially in the 13 stable provinces. People in the five restive provinces will take back the streets to ensure they're not left out - or behind.

The three strategic tracks to success in Iraq remain the same as ever: security, political and economic. Progress along all three vectors is essential to victory; each is dependent upon the other - like it or not.

The challenge is to advance them as concurrently as possible.

While Iraqi politics seem to be moving forward at a reasonable pace, the fact is that we'll never get the Iraqi insurgency monkey off our back (and our troops home) if we don't drive forward more efficiently and effectively with reconstruction and economic development.

Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow. His book, "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States," is just out.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in the New York Post