Marshall Plan for Iraq?

DANIEL BERGER

February 23, 1991|By DANIEL BERGER

The most urgent problem in Iraq after the fighting stops willbe to restore civil life in Baghdad. That means water and electricity and sanitation; food and medicine; the prevention of disease as well as the care of the wounded.

Not only will that be the fixation of the Iraqi government that emerges, it will also be a high priority for Washington. The U.S. will go from the offensive in Kuwait to the defensive in the battle for world opinion that will rage afterward. It will wish to minimize the damage it inflicted earlier, especially on civilian life in Iraq's capital.

On a slower time-frame will come reconstruction of the bridges, tracks and highways of the countryside, to get Iraq's economy running again. Following that on the agenda will be rebuilding of the factories and refineries that are legitimate parts of the civilian economy, and of the housing that was destroyed.

Finally comes the question of who will pay whom for what. Saddam Hussein demanded in his peace proposal that coalition countries that destroyed Iraq pay for rebuilding it. Saudi Arabia, however, is going into debt that offends Koranic proscription, because of the expenses to which it was driven, and will take little pity on Iraq.

Kuwait is forced back on its offshore economy to restart its country. The Kuwaiti rulers will publicize Iraqi atrocities and demand reparations. Not till the Kuwaitis reoccupy their country will anyone know the extent of Iraqi looting, murder and vandalism.

How all these problems will be addressed depends on the way the war ends.

The United States had an undeclared aim of toppling SaddaHussein, but intended to do that indirectly. The U.S. was unlikely to fight its way into Baghdad. The price would be horrendous, and the coalition partners would drop out.

What was always the likeliest possibility, which seemed to be emerging this weekend, was that the U.S.-led coalition would eject Iraqi forces from Kuwait, leading to an uneasy truce with Saddam Hussein remaining in power. In that eventuality, only Red Crescent societies from friendly Islamic countries and Soviet emergency workers would likely be welcomed in Iraq. Baghdad would boast of self-sufficiency, but reconstruction would hardly occur.

In such a scenario, any American humanitarian aid would be funneled through conduits and relief agencies acceptable to Baghdad. American relief workers would probably not be welcomed to inspect the distribution of aid. An expensive military vigilance would be maintained on Iraq's border. The U.S. would lead a decreasingly effective effort at arms embargo.

The dictator would put military reconstruction ahead of other values, but his debts would haunt him. It was debt for military expenditure that provoked Saddam's mad adventure last August. Arms suppliers are unlikely to extend further credits until they understand how they might be paid. Iraq's oil exports -- in the glut and low prices that will now last a decade -- would not suffice.

The demands of Iraq and Kuwait for reparations would echo down the years in a battle for sympathy with the masses of Arab and Islamic countries. Nothing would be resolved soon.

But quite a different scenario will unfold if Saddam Hussein is overthrown by the army or the Baath Party or returning prisoners of war or outraged peasants.

A successor government that repudiated Mr. Hussein's heritage and publicized his crimes and destroyed his reputation among Palestinians and other Arabs would find Washington in its debt. American and Saudi humanitarian aid would gush in. Comparisons would be made with the Marshall Plan for reconstruction of Western Europe after World War II. Sympathy for Iraq would be universal, from former friends and former foes alike.

American experts would be welcomed by such a regime in the reconstruction of the country. Monitoring against redevelopment of biological, chemical and nuclear weaponry and long-range delivery systems would be made easy.

Such a regime would have its own motive for discrediting Mr. Hussein. A government of wreckage always wants to pin the blame on its predecessor. Earning American and Saudi gratitude at the same time would be a bonus.

The odds are that no Iraqi government is ever going to pay the enormous debts that Saddam Hussein accumulated during and after his war with Iran, and every creditor knows it. But an anti-Saddam regime that recognized borders with Iran and Kuwait and published evidence of Mr. Hussein's sins would earn something like Chapter 11 protection.

Iraq would then be able to get new loans from international institutions or oil producers for civilian reconstruction, with future oil production for security. Iraq, which is blessed with fertile river valleys as well as oil, would recover and provide a decent life for its citizens and take its rightful place in the Arab world and community of nations.

Saddam Hussein can achieve many of the conditions he seeks, by disappearing from the scene. The Iraqis can win the peace by destroying him, or lose it by retaining him.

Daniel Berger is an editorial writer for The Sun.

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