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What to look for in the new Iraqi social structure

The military campaign is winding down. Now that the war may not perpetually fill television screens, the Bush administration is counting on public attention to shift elsewhere, providing the Department of Defense with carte blanche to proceed in Iraq — and around the globe — as it sees fit. The road map of America’s plans for the post-war engagement in Iraq begins with a period of military rule by coalition forces. The intention is to establish an interim Iraqi authority once the danger subsides. The third and final step of direct American involvement, if the Department of Defense is correct, will be the development of a functioning representational democracy. In Donald Rumsfeld’s eyes, it really is that easy.

In the meantime, American administrators in the newly formed Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance will spring into action. Contracts with defense firms, construction enterprises and oil companies have already been swiftly and secretly drawn up. Few details about the reconstruction are forthcoming from the White House or the Pentagon. But what is absolutely certain is that the Bush team moves quickly, quietly, and doesn’t like to ask for permission. Delivering Aid NOW Coalition forces will have their hands full in the coming weeks and months.

Maintaining civil order is especially important so that humanitarian groups can do their work. A Canadian Red Cross worker was killed in Baghdad as the fighting reached its peak, prompting the organization to temporarily shut down its activities in that city and announce that their workers would stay out of Basra until their safety could be assured. Hospitals have been filled beyond capacity, and aid groups are anxious to help alleviate pressure on the facilities most overwhelmed by war casualties. The Iraqis are thought to have stocked up food supplies for a six-week duration, which means rations will run out in early May.

Numerous non-governmental organizations in the field complain that the Pentagon was inappropriately tightlipped about its battle plans in the months preceding war, making their job of anticipating casualties and positioning aid particularly difficult. The Red Cross, for example, was prevented by U.S. Treasury Department red tape from constructing water systems for Kurdish refugees in northern Iraq even though the State Department had issued the organization $1.4 million for that purpose. Government representatives deny that they’ve excessively excluded NGOs from the planning process. Concerning spending and war contracts, Congress has given the president a $79 billion war budget. Roughly $2.4 billion is intended for reconstruction, while a paltry $105 million is targeted to aid organizations, including the United Nations. By contrast, $600 million will be spent on the first construction contract alone.

Immediate infrastructure needs include rebuilding airports, electric, water and other power suppliers, transportation systems, schools and hospitals. Present contracts might amount to as much as $1 billion. The figure pales in comparison to multibillion-dollar contracts being developed for the next few years. The choice of a handful of American companies to do the reconstruction work has caused friction within Bush’s coalition. U.S. Agency for International Development director Andrew Natsios defends the expedited, limited invitation process of contract bidding as being necessary “to quickly show the world — especially Muslim countries — that we care about the Iraqi people.” Paying for the war and the reconstruction will continue to require sacrifices from all Americans.

Even if the campaign against Saddam did not begin with the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind, it seems to have ended with a real opportunity to improve their lot. If the Pentagon and the White House are able to follow through with their rhetorical promises, Iraq will ultimately be better off. Time will tell if the administration can back up its military adventurism with successful nation-building.

University Wire