U.S. losing nonmilitary struggle to rebuild Iraq


WASHINGTON --For all this week's fevered rhetoric, endless squabbling over benchmarks and charts and debating of troop numbers, a critical piece of the Iraq puzzle has gone largely unmentioned: jobs.

President Bush often boasts of past American successes in rebuilding war-ravaged Europe and South Korea.

But Iraq, after four years of U.S. occupation and a $44 billion investment by American taxpayers, still is an economic basket case, a country with a stagnant economy, dozens of idle factories, dysfunctional government ministries that cannot provide sufficient electricity, clean water or basic health care, and millions of unemployed workers.

And that, according to war critics and Pentagon officials, is a recipe for continued conflict in Iraq, no matter how many troops are deployed or withdrawn or how much "reconciliation" is achieved among Baghdad's politicians.

"If your government is delivering services for you, you're going to feel a lot better about your government," Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told The Sun. He added with a grin: "It also works in Baltimore, I'm told."

For ordinary Iraqis, living in a war zone is frightening enough. Having no way to provide for your family is perhaps worse, a predicament that breeds resentment and anger and, U.S. military officers say, creates a vast pool of Iraqis who support the insurgents, either passively or actively.

Many of the attacks on U.S. troops, officers say, involve ordinary Iraqis who are paid $50 or so to fire a rocket-propelled grenade at American soldiers and run, or to dig a roadside hole for a homemade bomb.

Unemployment is rampant among Iraq's 7.7 million working-age males, said Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Paul Brinkley, director of the Pentagon's task force on improving Iraqi industry. He said at least half of Iraq's workers are unemployed.

"There is no human population in the world that can withstand that level of economic distress and not experience attendant violence, unrest [and] sympathy with violent actors," Brinkley told reporters last week.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, said recently that victory in Iraq "requires an economy that provides jobs to those citizens, so they can do something besides build bombs for a hundred dollars."

As Bush acknowledged last night, "For most Iraqis, the quality of life is far from where it should be."

Yet a large part of the problem, according to Gen. David Petraeus and others, is that the Bush administration has been sluggish about mobilizing the government's nonmilitary resources for Iraq, to provide job training and significant start-up help for state-owned factories, assistance in setting up a banking system, in streamlining trade agreements and tax collection, or aid in organizing, equipping and operating key ministries, and other critical nonmilitary functions.

Although the U.S. military has vastly expanded its ability to do short-term "nation-building" and civil projects, senior officers have said they cannot take on long-term economic, social and commercial responsibilities.

In the Army manual on counterinsurgency war, written under his direction, Petraeus established the principle that the solution to conflicts such as Iraq is 20 percent military and 80 percent nonmilitary.

Though Petraeus is held in high regard by Bush, the U.S. commander in Iraq has been unable to get the White House to pour more resources into the nonmilitary fight.

Twice this week, Petraeus indulged in mild criticism of the White House, observing that much of the administration is not yet "on the same kind of war footing" as the military and the State Department.

In his speech last night and in a report to be delivered to Congress today, Bush noted the role of provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq, which combine civilian American experts in operating regional governments and schools, sewer and water systems, courts and other functions with a U.S. military unit. They are empowered to make quick loans and grants, but the intent is to help Iraqis figure out how to jump-start and sustain economic, commercial and governmental activity.

There are 25 such teams now at work across Iraq, up from 10 in January.

"We are surging diplomatic and civilian resources to ensure that military progress is quickly followed up with real improvements in daily life," Bush asserted last night.

But independent reports say they are badly undermanned and underfunded.

Asked this week about the apparent inability or unwillingness of the departments of State, Commerce, Treasury, Justice and other federal agencies to mobilize for the war, Petraeus said: "I think we need to take a look at that."

When he asked for help, he said, the response from other federal agencies has been, "`Well, we would love to help, but we can't because the security situation isn't adequate.'"

Petraeus declined to say whether he had asked for and received assurances from Bush that the White House would mobilize other government agencies on Iraq.

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