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Memo From Iraq

Why occupation is failing. A report from the inside.

By Jason Vest

AS THE SITUATION in Iraq grows ever more tenuous, the Bush administration continues to spin ominous news with matter-of-fact optimism. According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Iraqi uprisings in a half-dozen cities, accompanied by the deaths of more than 100 soldiers in the month of April alone, is something to be viewed in the context of "good days and bad days," merely "a moment in Iraq's path towards a free and democratic system." More recently, the president himself asserted, "Our coalition is standing with responsible Iraqi leaders as they establish growing authority in their country."

But according to a closely held Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) memo written in early March, the reality isn't so rosy. Iraq's chances of seeing democracy succeed, according to the memo's author--a U.S. government official assigned to the CPA, who wrote the summation of field observations for a senior CPA director--have been severely imperiled by a year's worth of serious errors on the part of the Pentagon and the CPA, the U.S.-led multinational agency administering Iraq. Far from facilitating democracy and security, the memo's author fears, U.S. efforts have created an environment rife with corruption and sectarianism likely to result in civil war.

Provided to this reporter by a Western intelligence official, the memo was partially redacted to protect the writer's identity and to "avoid inflaming an already volatile situation" by revealing the names of certain Iraqi figures. A wide-ranging and often acerbic critique of the CPA, covering topics ranging from policy, personalities and press operations to on-the-ground realities such as electricity, the document is not only notable for its candidly troubled assessment of Iraq's future. It is also significant, according to the intelligence official, because its author has been a steadfast advocate of "transforming" the Middle East, beginning with "regime change" in Iraq.

Civil War Trigger

Signs of the author's continuing support for the U.S. invasion and occupation are all over the memo, which was written to a superior in Baghdad and circulated among CPA officials. He praises Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi and laments a lack of unqualified U.S. support for Chalabi, a longtime favorite of Washington hawks. (It bears noting that Chalabi was tried and convicted in absentia by the Jordanian government for bank embezzlement, in 1989, and has come under fire more recently for peddling dubious prewar intelligence to the United States.)

The author also asserts that "what we have accomplished in Iraq is worth it." And his predictions sometimes hew to an improbably sunny view. Violence is likely for only "two or three days after arresting" radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr, he says, an event that would "make other populist leaders think twice" about bucking the CPA. Written only weeks ago, these predictions seem quite unwarranted, since simply trying to arrest al Sadr has resulted in more than two weeks of bloody conflict--with no end in sight--and seems to have engendered more cooperation between anti-Coalition forces than before.

Yet the memo is gloomy in most other respects, portraying a country mired in dysfunction and corruption, overseen by a CPA that "handle(s) an issue like six-year-olds play soccer: Someone kicks the ball and one hundred people chase after it hoping to be noticed, without a care as to what happens on the field." But it is particularly pointed on the subject of cronyism and corruption within the Governing Council, the provisional Iraqi government subordinate to the CPA, whose responsibilities include restaffing Iraq's government departments. "In retrospect," the memo asserts, "both for political and organizational reasons, the decision to allow the Governing Council to pick 25 ministers did the greatest damage. Not only did we endorse nepotism, with men choosing their sons and brothers-in-law; but we also failed to use our prerogative to shape a system that would work ... our failure to promote accountability has hurt us."

In the broadest sense, according to the memo's author, the CPA's bunker-in-Baghdad mentality has contributed to the potential for civil war all over the country. "[CPA Administrator L. Paul] Bremer has encouraged re-centralization in Iraq because it is easier to control a Governing Council less than a kilometer away from the Palace, rather than 18 different provincial councils who would otherwise have budgetary authority," he says.

The net effect, he continues, has been a "desperation to dominate Baghdad, and an absolutism born of regional isolation." The memo also describes the CPA as "handicapped by [its] security bubble," and derides the U.S. government for spending "millions importing sport utility vehicles which are used exclusively to drive the kilometer and a half" between CPA and Governing Council headquarters when "we would have been much better off with a small fleet of used cars and a bicycle for every Green Zone resident."

While the memo upbraids CPA officials--an apparent majority--who stay inside the Green Zone in the name of personal safety, it also maintains that the Green Zone itself is "less than secure" for both Westerners and Iraqis. According to the author, "screening for Iranian agents and followers of Muqtada al Sadr is inconsistent at best," and anti-CPA elements can easily gather basic intelligence since no one is there to "prevent people from entering the parking lot outside the checkpoint to note license plate numbers of 'collaborators.'"

Ordinary Iraqis also "fear that some of the custodial staff note who comes and goes," according to the memo, causing a "segment of Iraqi society to avoid meeting Americans because they fear the Green Zone." It also derides the use of heavily armed personal-security details (PSDs) for CPA personnel, saying the practice inspires reticence among ordinary Iraqis. "It is ingrained in the Iraqi psyche to keep a close hold on their own thoughts when surrounded by people with guns," the memo notes. "Even those willing to talk to Americans think twice, since American officials create a spectacle of themselves, with convoys, flak jackets, fancy SUVs."

While the memo offers an encouraging and appealing picture of thriving businesses and patrons on the streets of a free Baghdad, it notes that "the progress evident[ly] happens despite us rather than because of us," and reports that "frequent explosions, many of which are not reported in the mainstream media, are a constant reminder of uncertainty."

Indeed, while boosters of the Iraqi invasion delight in the phrase "25 million free Iraqis," if the CPA memo is any indication, this newfound liberty does not include freedom from fear. "Baghdadis have an uneasy sense that they are heading towards civil war," it says. "Sunnis, Shias, and Kurd professionals say that they themselves, friends, and associates are buying weapons fearing for the future." The memo also notes that while Iraqi police "remain too fearful to enforce regulations," they are making a pretty penny as small-arms dealers, with the CPA as an unwitting partner. "CPA is ironically driving the weapons market," it reveals. "Iraqi police sell their U.S.-supplied weapons on the black market; they are promptly re-supplied. Interior ministry weapons buy-backs keep the price of arms high."

The memo goes on to argue that "the trigger for a civil war" is not likely to be an isolated incident of violence but the result of "deeper conflicts that revolve around patronage and absolutism" reaching a flashpoint.

'Their Corruption Is Our Corruption'

Asserting that the United States must "use our prerogative as an occupying power to signal that corruption will not be tolerated," the CPA memo recommends taking action against at least four Iraqi ministers whose names have been redacted from the document. (Though there may be no connection, two weeks ago, Interior Minister Nuri Badran abruptly resigned, as did Governing Council member Iyad Allawi.) Also redacted is the name of a minister whose acceptance of "alleged kickbacks ... should be especially serious for us, since he was one of two ministers who met the President and had his picture taken with him." (Though the identity of the minister in question cannot be precisely determined, the only Iraqi ministers who have been photographed with President Bush are Iraqi public-works minister Nesreen Berwari and electricity minister Ayhem al-Sammarai, on Sept. 23, 2003.) "If such information gets buried on the desks of middle-level officials who do not want to make waves," the memo warns, "the short-term gain will be replaced by long-term ill."

Developing this theme, the memo asserts that the United States "share[s] culpability in the eyes of ordinary Iraqis" for engendering Iraq's currently cronyistic state; since "we appointed the Governing Council members ... their corruption is our corruption." The author then notes that two individuals--names again redacted--have successfully worked to exclude certain strains of Shia from obtaining ministerial-level positions, and that for this "Iraqis blame Bremer, especially because the [CPA] Governance Group had assured Iraqis that exclusion from the Governing Council did not mean an exclusion from the process. As it turns out, we lied. People from Kut [a city south of Baghdad recently besieged by Shiite forces loyal to Muqtada al Sadr], for example, see that they have no representation on the Governing Council, and many predict civil war since they doubt that the Governing Council will really allow elections."

Fanning the embers of distrust is the United States' failure to acknowledge that the constituencies of key Governing Council members "are not based on ideology, but rather on the muscle of their respective personal militias and the patronage which we allow them to bestow," according to the memo's author. Using the Kurds as an example, he reveals that "we have bestowed approximately $600 million upon the Kurdish leadership, in addition to the salaries we pay, in addition to the USAID projects, in addition to the taxes which we have allowed them to collect illegally." To underscore the point, the author adds that he recently spent an evening with a Kurdish contact watching The Godfather trilogy, and notes that "the entire evening was spent discussing which Iraqi Kurdish politicians represented which [Godfather] character."

The memo also characterizes the CPA's border-security policy as "completely irrelevant," going so far as to state that "it is undeniable that a crumbling Baathist regime did better than we have" in that regard. Noting that senior Defense Department officials do not fully understand the nature of the problem, the memo recommends that the United States "deploy far greater numbers [of soldiers] than we have now" on the borders. The memo also criticizes the Defense Department--in particular the Office of the Secretary of Defense--for keeping potentially useful personnel in Washington. "There is an unfortunate trend inside the Pentagon where those who can write a good memo are punished by being held back from the field," it says, adding that "OSD harms itself, and its constituent members' individual credibility, when it defers all real world experience to others."

The CPA's press operation--headed by Dan Senor, Bremer's senior communications adviser, who is seen by many as little more than a White House hack--doesn't escape the memo writer's criticism, either. The press office, he says, has made a bad political situation worse by "promoting American individuals above Iraqis."

In one case, the memo says, "Iraqis present at the 4 am conclusion of the Governing Council deliberations on the interim constitution were mocking Dan Senor's request that no one say anything to the press until the following afternoon. ... It was obvious to all that an American wanted to make the announcement and so take credit. Our lack of honesty in saying as much annoyed the Iraqis ... [they] resent the condescension of our press operation."


Helene C. Stikkel; Photo Courtesy of U.S. Department of Defense

Where Do We Go From Here?: Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul Bremer sturggles with the reality of regime change.

Power Shortage

By and large, the March memo validates many points raised by career military, diplomatic and intelligence officers before the war. For them, lack of planning for postwar stabilization was a primary matter of deep concern, which cannot be said for the Bush administration's hawkish advocates of "regime change."

Among the more informed and prescient in this camp is retired USAF Col. Sam Gardiner, a longtime National War College instructor and war-games specialist who asserted in February of 2003 that "the military is not prepared to deal with [Bush's] promises" of a rapid and upbeat postwar transition in Iraq. Based on Gardiner's experience as a participant in a Swedish National War College study of protracted difficulties in rebuilding Kosovo's electrical grid after NATO bombed it in 1999, Gardiner made a similar study, in 2002, of the likely effect U.S. bombardment would have on Iraq's power system. Gardiner's assessment was not optimistic. It was also hardly unknown: not only did he present his finding to a mass audience at a RAND Corporation forum, he also briefed ranking administration officials ranging from then-NSC Iraq point man Zalmay Khalizad to senior Pentagon and U.S. Agency for International Development officials.

Despite repeated assurances over the past year from CPA chief L. Paul Bremer that Iraq's electricity situation has vastly improved, the memo says otherwise, reporting that there is "no consistency" in power flows. "Street lights function irregularly and traffic lights not at all. ... Electricity in Baghdad fluctuating between three hours, on and off, in rotation, and four hours on and off."

"I continue to get very upset about the electricity issue," Gardiner said last week after reviewing the memo. "I said in my briefing that the electrical system was going to be damaged, and damaged for a long time, and that we had to find a way to keep key people at their posts and give them what they need so there wouldn't be unnatural surges that cause systems to burn out. Frankly, if we had just given the Iraqis some baling wire and a little bit of space to keep things running, it would have been better. But instead we've let big U.S. companies go in with plans for major overhauls."

Indeed, as journalists Pratap Chatterjee and Herbert Docena noted in a report from Iraq in Southern Exposure, published by the Durham, N.C.-based Institute for Southern Studies, the steam turbines at Iraq's Najibiya power plant have been dormant since last fall. As Yaruub Jasim, the plant's manager, explained, "Normally we have power 23 hours a day. We should have done maintenance on these turbines in October, but we had no spare parts and money."

And why not? According to Jasim, the necessary replacement parts were supposed to come from Bechtel, but they hadn't yet arrived--in part because Bechtel's priority was a months-long independent examination of power plants with an eye toward total reconstruction. And while parts could have been cheaply and quickly obtained from Russian, German or French contractors--the contractors who built most of Iraq's power stations--"unfortunately," Jasim told Chatterjee and Docena, "Mr. Bush prevented the French, Russian, and German companies from [getting contracts in] Iraq." (In an interview last year with the San Francisco Chronicle, Bechtel's Iraq operations chief held that "to just walk in and start fixing Iraq" was "an unrealistic expectation.")

The CPA memo also validates key points of the exceptionally perceptive February 2003 U.S. Army War College report, "Reconstructing Iraq: Insights, Challenges, and Missions for Military Forces in a Post-Conflict Scenario." Critical of the U.S. government's insufficient postwar planning, the War College report asserted that "the possibility of the United States winning the war and losing the peace is real and serious." It also cautioned that insufficient attention had been given to the political complexities likely to crop up in post-Saddam Iraq, a scene in which religious and ethnic blocs supported by militias would further complicate a transition to functional democracy in a nation bereft of any pluralistic history.

According to a Washington, D.C.-based senior military official whose responsibilities include Iraq, the CPA now estimates there are at least 30 separate militias active in Iraq, and "essentially, [CPA] doesn't know what to do with regard to them--which is frightening, because CPA's authority essentially ends on June 30, and any Iraqi incentive to get rid of the militias is likely to go away after that date, as sending U.S. troops around Iraq against Iraqis isn't likely to endear the new Iraqi government to its citizens."

And then there is the problem of Iran. According to the memo, "Iranian money is pouring in" to occupied Iraq--particularly the area under British control--and it asserts it is "a mistake" to stick to a policy of "not rock[ing] the boat" with the Iranians, as "the Iranian actors with which the State Department likes to do business ... lack the power to deliver on promises" to exercise restraint in Iraq.

According to senior U.S. intelligence and military officials queried on this point, the Iranian influence in Iraq is both real and formidable, and the United States is, as one put it, at best "catching up" in the battle for influence. But the officials also added that pushing the point with Iran too hard--either through diplomatic channels or on the ground in Iraq--would likely be more troubled than the current course of action, possibly resulting in armed conflict with Iran or a proxy war in Iraq that the United States isn't ready to fight.

Famously, Lord Cromer once described Great Britain's approach to the Land of the Nile: "We do not rule Egypt; we rule those who rule Egypt." Compare that with several statements made by the U.S. official who wrote the memo considered here. Of one senior Iraqi official, whose name is redacted, he says "it is better to keep [him] a happy drunk than an angry drunk." And he says of two other Iraqi leaders that they are "much more compliant when their checks are delayed or fail to appear," adding that "the same is true with other Governing Council members." The attitudes aren't much different, are they? And yet sometimes, the most true and heartbreaking view is afforded from the wheel of the mighty ship of state.


Jason Vest is a senior correspondent for 'The American Prospect.' His book on the current Bush administration and national security will be published in 2005. This piece was commissioned by the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies (AAN) of which Metro is a member.


Text of Redacted Memo by U.S. Official in Iraq

[Below is the full text of the redacted memo upon which Jason Vest's article is based. It was originally sent as an e-mail and was received by Vest with the headers redacted.-- Editor]

[REDACTED],

[REDACTED]

I want to emphasize: As great as the problems we face, and the criticisms back home, and mindful of the sacrifice that almost 600 Americans have made, what we have accomplished in Iraq is worth it. While Iraqis joke, "Americans go home -- and take us with you." The gratitude which they express is sincere and unsolicited, and not limited to a single political class. The political bickering back in the United States has worried Iraqis, who fear that a Kerry victory will mean an American withdrawal, short-term civil war, and long-term empowerment of the most radical elements of society throughout the Islamic world. Nevertheless, several Iraqi political movements have begun reaching out to Senate Democrats to keep their bases covered.

I have conflicting impressions of where Iraq is going. It is easy to see progress in Baghdad. Driving from Jadriya to Mansour around 7 p.m. on March 4, shops were bustling. Women and girls, some with hair covered and other not, crowded shops selling the latest fashions from Italy via Lebanon, cell phones and electrical gadgets, fancy shoes, and cell phones. Baghdadis are out and about, looking more self-assured. Gone is the confusion that permeated Iraqi society in the aftermath of Saddam's fall. Shwarma and ice cream shops do a booming business, and families patronize restaurants. Twenty-somethings and teenagers meet in internet cafes. The internet cafes that we see from the roadside on the main streets are just the tip of the iceberg; many mahalla have their own internet cafes set off in alcoves off side streets. Even in poorer areas like Baghdad al-Jadida, new plastic signs plaster the sides of buildings. Pundits and others harp on lack of security, but shopkeepers pile electrical appliances, clothes, bicycles, and other goods on the street. New cars crowd the street, as well as older models long forbidden (Saddam used to forbid cars of a certain year from entering Baghdad). Car dealerships continue to open around the city. Traffic police go through the motions, but remain too fearful to enforce regulations.

Street lights function irregularly and traffic lights not at all, but private investors have brought in generators so that shops can function after dark. Electricity in Baghdad is fluctuating between three hours on and off, in rotation, and four hours on and off. There is no consistency. Despite assurances to the contrary, neither the CPA nor the Ministry of Electricity publishes a schedule of power cuts and rotations. It is now starting to get hot. I hope that the Ministry of Electricity will be ready for the summer. You can't run an air conditioning unit on a household generator, and the demand this year will be greater than ever before because of the influx of new appliances. If we are basing our goal on last year's figures, we are going to come out flat.

Despite the progress evident in the streets of Baghdad, much of which happens despite us rather than because of us, Baghdadis have an uneasy sense that they are heading toward civil war. Sunnis, Shi'a, and Kurds professionals have say that they themselves, friends, and associates are buying weapons fearing for the future. CPA is ironically driving the weapons market: Iraqi police sell their "lost" U.S.-supplied weapons on the black market; they are promptly re-supplied. Interior ministry weapons buy-backs keep the price of arms high.

The frequent explosions, many of which are not reported in the mainstream media, are a constant reminder of uncertainty. When a blast occurs, residents check their watch. If it's on the hour, chances are that it's a controlled explosion destroyed confiscated ordinance. The explosions are frequent. Twice in recent days, nearby explosions woke me up. I was staying with friends on the opposite side of the Mansour district when a loud explosion rattled the windows -- apparently when rockets hit the nearby phone exchange. Given that I had gone to sleep at around 3 a.m., it had to be big to wake me. (As an aside, most Iraqi politicking occurs between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., and so if CPA bases its cables on Governing Council meetings and an occasional dinner with primary actors, it is missing a great deal). This morning, I heard a loud blast at 8:40 a.m. My guards told me I slept through an explosion a bit earlier.

We have made the most progress in Baghdad; the south may be calm, but it seems the calm before the storm. Iranian money is pouring in. British policy is to not rock the boat, and so they do nothing that may result in confrontation. This is a mistake. We are faced with an Iranian challenge. Whether Iranian activities are sanctioned or not by the Iranian actors with which the State Department likes to do business should be moot, since those Iranians who offer engagement lack the power to deliver on their promises. In Bosnia and Afghanistan, we were likewise challenged by the Iranians. In both cases, the Iranians promised their intentions were benign. In Bosnia, we rolled up the Qods Force anyway, and Bosnia has remained pro-Western in its orientation. In Afghanistan, we wrung our hands and did little, worried that the Iranians might respond to confrontation as if we did anything to enforce our word. This projected weakness. Today, Iran holds as much influence over Western Afghanistan than at any time since after the Anglo-Persian War of 1857. That said, I do not think that a deliberate bombing such as we saw in Karbala or Khadimiya will be the trigger for a civil war. Rather, I worry about deeper conflicts that revolve around patronage and absolutism. Bremer has encouraged re- centralization in Iraq because it is easier to control a Governing Council less than a kilometer away from the Palace rather than 18 different provincial councils who would otherwise have budgetary authority. The net affect, however, has been desperation to dominate Baghdad, and an absolutism borne of regional isolation. The interim constitution moves things in the right direction, but the constitution is meaningless if we are not prepared to confront challenges.

Throughout Iraq, we are handicapped by our security bubble. Few in CPA- Baghdad get out of the Green Zone anymore, at least outside the normal business of going to their respective ministries, etc. Most drivers work during the day, but not in the evening hours when Baghdad is most alive. The U.S. Government has spent millions importing sport utility vehicles which are used exclusively to drive the kilometer and a half between the Convention Center and the Palace. We would have been much better off with a small fleet of used cars, and a bicycle for every Green Zone resident.

CPA's isolation will get worse with the transfer to the State Department. The job of Regional Security Officers [RSOs] is to ensure safety and minimize risk. In the view of most RSOs, the best assurance for the safety is to not leave the Green Zone. This is the same policy which the British now apply for their CPA personnel. The irony is that the Green Zone is less than secure. Despite the success of the Information Collection Program in rolling up Baathist and Salafi cells targeting Americans, large concentrations of Americans and Brits do make tempting artillery targets. While managing the risk from the Baathist remnants, we may leave ourselves vulnerable to other risks. Our screening for Iranian agents and followers of Muqtada al-Sadr is inconstant at best. The isolation is two-sided: Iraqis realize that the entrances to the Green Zone are under surveillance by bad-guys, and they also fear that some of the custodial staff note of who comes and goes. No one prevents people from entering the parking lot outside the checkpoint to note license plate numbers of "collaborators." Perhaps the paranoia is justified, perhaps it is not. But, the net effect is the same, as a segment of Iraqi society seeks to avoid meeting Americans because they fear the Green Zone.

The use of Personal Security Details [PSDs] also handicaps out ability to report on certain key trends, especially in the south and south- central. PSDs are necessary for protection, but they hamper communication with ordinary people. It is ingrained in the Iraqi psyche to keep a close hold on their own thoughts when surrounded by people with guns. Even those willing to talk to Americans think twice, since American officials create a spectacle of themselves, with convoys, flak jackets, and fancy SUVs. No one in Hilla, Nasriya, or Basra can surreptitiously complain, for example, about Iranian influence to Americans or British officials in CPA-SC or CPA-S when they feel that all eyes -- including those of people reporting to the Iranians -- are watching them. Likewise, no one in Baquba can complain of the presence of Baathis when they feel that Americans' ability to be inconspicuous may bring them personal harm. Iraqis fear entering the headquarters of provincial CPA offices when they perceive, as in the north, that many of the guards and translators report to regional oligarchs.

How to balance out the need for security with the need to get an accurate on-the-ground report? We need to send out people to rove and who approach the streets with a fresh outlook. It may not look pretty on an organizational chart, but it works. We have people in OSD who speak Farsi and/or Arabic but who are preventing from even visiting. There is an unfortunate trend inside the Pentagon where those who can write a good memo are punished by being held back from the field, despite the fact that three weeks' experience could bolster their ability to serve the Pentagon hierarchy and write an informed memo, position paper, or answer accurately a snowflake. Three weeks is enough to get a sense of the lay of the land, especially for those whose language ability is far better than mine. We have all heard that the job of an OSD desk officer is to sit at our desks, in case we are needed on any particular day. More often than not, we sit idle, even when superiors tell others we are busy. OSD harms itself, and its constituent members' individual credibility when it defers all real world experience to others. There is not a single person I know working in OSD who have any other goal than to serve the best they can. Some people have chosen not to go to Iraq for reasons that are known only to them, but others very much want to come to Iraq, but are prevented by superiors who have misinformed leadership that people want to stay put. This is simply not true, and is a factor in the poor morale which afflicts the Pentagon.

Allowing reporting outside the compartmentalization which both the State Department and CPA crave would not compromise security. There is security in anonymity when not tied to a specific area. In my case, outside of Iraqi Kurdistan, I need not fear being recognized on the street. Unlike many members of our provincial governorate teams, I do not let the mayors and governors I visit put me on local television. When the television cameras appear, I tell the governor or mayor that I cannot appear. Not only does this increase my own security but is also creates a bit of a mystique which allows me to better function in the eyes of some Iraqi officials. Ironically, allowing a portion of political officers to roam would not create any more administrative chaos as that which already exists. One CPA official, who will remain anonymous, drew an apt metaphor: Watching CPA handle an issue is like watching six-year-olds play soccer. Someone kicks the ball, and one hundred people chase after it (hoping to be noticed), without a care as to what else happens on the field.

On a micro-level, avoiding the media is my way of addressing what I see as a failure in our strategic communication, which tends to promote American individuals above Iraqis. Iraqis present at the 4 a.m. conclusion of the Governing Council deliberations on the interim constitution were mocking Dan Senor's request that no one say anything to the press until the following afternoon. It was obvious to all that an American wanted to make the announcement and so take credit. Our lack of honesty in saying as much annoyed the Iraqis. Iraqi politicians are savvy enough to understand political posturing, but resent the condescension of our press operation. The resulting press, not only in al-Mutamar and -az-Zaman, but also in The New York Times and The Washington Post focused on Iraqis, and not on U.S. actors. It is what we should have been aiming for all along.

The interim constitution has been quite a success. I can be quite cynical about most Iraqi politicians, but I do think that it's hard to not give Ahmed Chalabi credit for getting the deal we got. When I see the results of his maneuvering and coalition building, I wonder how much farther we could have gotten if so many in the U.S. government had not sought to undermine him at every possible opportunity. Of course we could have gotten a better deal had we come in and used our momentum, but the importance of momentum in international relations is something neither the interagency process, nor the CPA, nor the Pentagon fully grasps. If they did, we would not waste time changing "happy" to "glad" oblivious to the fact that Iraq does not operate on Washington time.

I had dinner with Chalabi the evening after the constitution was announced, after he returned from a visit to Khadimiya (the evening before the bombing). He was extremely happy with the deal Iraqi liberals and the United States got.

Then again, as I wrote in a memo earlier this week to some of you, the interim constitution is just an exercise in Governing Council and CPA masturbation if not enforced. The fact that we do nothing to roll up Muqtada al-Sadr's Jaysh al-Mahdi which is running around Najaf, arresting and torturing people, and trying Iraqis before their own kangaroo courts signals to Iraqis that we lack seriousness. It also telegraphs weakness not only to Muqtada al-Sadr, but also to others who realize they cannot win legitimacy through the ballot box, and therefore will seek to grab it through violence. Yes, we would have violence for two or three days after arresting Muqtada (whom, after all, has had murder charges leveled against him by an Iraqi prosecutor), but that would subside. Since so many of us have gone through it, allow me a metaphor to the small pox vaccine: Getting the vaccine results in a pustule which is unpleasant, but the vaccine also prevents the potential of thousands of other pustules. Arresting Muqtada would signal weakness, and would make other populist leaders think twice.

Our failure to promote accountability has hurt us. If we fail to fire corrupt ministers, we promote an air of unaccountability. Bremer's less than subtle threats have aggravated the situation. Whenever Bremer repeats that he has the power to veto what he does not like, he gives a green light for Governing Council members to pursue their most populist demands, knowing they can build constituency without ever having to face the consequences.

Iraqis politicians, ordinary Iraqis, and U.S. contractors have the sense that Bremer's goal is to leave Iraq with his reputation intact. He therefore hesitates to take tough but necessary decisions, instead hoping to foist them onto his successor or international organizations. Success should not be seen as the state of Iraqi on June 30, but rather the state of Iraq on July 31, September 30, or November 30. It is essential we transfer sovereignty to an Iraq built upon the strongest possible template. We need to use our prerogative as occupying power to signal that corruption will not be tolerated. We have the authority to remove ministers. To take action against men like [REDACTED] would win us applause on the street, even if their GC sponsors would go through the motions of complaint. The alleged kickbacks that [REDACTED] is accepting should be especially serious for us, since he was one of two ministers who met the President and has his picture taken with him. If such information gets buried on the desks of middle-level officials who do not want to make waves, then short- term gain will be replaced by long-term ill.

We so share culpability in the eyes of ordinary Iraqis. After all, we appointed the Governing Council members. Their corruption is our corruption. When [REDACTED] work to exclude followers of other trends of Shi'a political thought from minister and deputy minister positions, Iraqis blame Bremer, especially because the Governance Group had assured Iraqis that their exclusion from the Governing Council did not mean an exclusion from the process. As it turned out, we lied. People from Kut, for example, see that they have no representation on the Governing Council, and many predict civil war since they doubt that the Governing Council will really allow elections.

In retrospect, both for political and organizational reasons, the decision to allow the Governing Council to pick 25 ministers did the greatest damage. Not only did we endorse nepotism, with men choosing their sons or brothers-in-law; but we also failed to use our prerogative to shape a system that would work. It is true that several Governing Council members have real constituencies, for example, [REDACTED], but what we ignore is that these constituencies are not based on ideology, but rather on the muscle of their respective personal militias and the patronage which we allow them to bestow. We have bestowed approximately $600 million upon the Kurdish leadership, in addition to the salaries we pay, in addition to the USAID projects, in addition to the taxes we have allowed them to collect illegally. I spent the night of March 3 and morning of March 4 watching The Godfather trilogy on DVD with an Iraqi Kurdish contact who had ridiculed me for never having before seen any of the films. The entire evening was spent discussing which Iraqi Kurdish politicians represented which character. It is telling that it's remarkably easy to do -- it was even easy to identify [REDACTED] in the film.

Patronage and oligarchy are the same the world over. Abdul Aziz Hakim receives support from the Iranian government, which long was his host. The ironic thing is that, with proper funding of Iraqi liberals, we could have helped advance them much farther than we did. It is a lesson the Supreme Leader understands in Tehran, Shaykh Zayid understands in Abu Dhabi, and Crown Prince Abdullah understands in Saudi Arabia.

It would be a very grave mistake to transfer authority to the United Nations. Kofi Annan once said that "Saddam Hussein is a man I can do business with." Not only can we expect such a tape to be aired often on Iraqi television, but also we can expect further revelations that Kofi Annan was speaking literally and, not just figuratively. I spent a great deal of time with Claude Hankes-Drielsma, chairman of Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, when he was in Baghdad earlier this week. Many of you may remember him from his service with the 1985 South African debt commission, and as an investigator who exposed the Nobel Foundation scandal several years back. He is currently serving as advisor to the Finance Committee of the Governing Council, in which capacity he is organizing the audit of the UN oil-for-food system. Already, the audit has uncovered serious wrongdoing in banks, and discrepancies of billions of dollars. Anger is rising at just how little Iraq got for its money under UN auspices, when the UN oversaw contracts that inflated prices and delivered substandard if not useless goods. While the Western press has focused on officials like Benon Sevan who, according to documents, received discounted oil, the real scandal appears to be in some of the trading companies which would convert such oil shares to cash. For example, Sevan cashed his oil share with a Panamanian trading company, which, it turns out, was controlled by Boutros-Boutros Ghali. This scandal is going to run deep, and will likely erupt prior to the U.S. presidential election. Senior UN officials know that an independent audit is being conducted, and are not cooperating. It would be a shame if it turns out we knew about this, and yet did nothing to ensure that key UN and bank documents were not shredded. Regardless, to allow the United Nations to again loot Iraq will be problematic at best.

A real problem remains the lack of security over Iraq's borders. I do not believe those up high fully understand the problem. When I first returned to the Defense Department in November, the first assignment I had was to answer a snowflake about how we are securing Iraq's borders. It came less than two weeks after I was stopped by an illegal PKK checkpoint about 20 kilometers from the Iranian border. I answered the snowflake honestly, but was told to elaborate on the procedures in place. The problem was that no one was following procedures. That CPA had a Border Enforcement policy is completely irrelevant. It is too easy to say the borders are indefensible. After all, while sanctions smuggling did occur, it is undeniable that a crumbling Baathist regime did better than have we. There are military roads along the frontiers, even in mountainous terrain. Infiltrators may not have nefarious purposes for entering the country -- some may simply want to go on pilgrimage while avoiding the excessive tax and license fees which the Iranian regime charges. However, if we want to truly secure the border, we need to deploy far greater numbers than we have now, jail anyone caught taking bribes, and imprison any infiltrators for more than a year to send the signal to neighboring countries that such behavior will no longer be tolerated. [REDACTED] might be politely told that his job is as much to reform the foreign ministry and set it back on its feet instead of just seeing how much he can east at a succession of state banquets.

Lastly, before I sign off, our diplomats fear using leverage. It is much nicer to sleep at the resort [REDACTED] appropriated for his own personal use when you don't have to listen to him harp and complain. Likewise, it is better to keep [REDACTED] a happy drunk rather than an angry drunk. If our diplomats and CPA officials feel uncomfortable being bad cop, it is essential that people in Washington play the role. [REDACTED] and [REDACTED], for example, are much more compliant when their checks are "delayed" or fail to appear. The same is true with other Governing Council members. The key is subtlety. They will figure out the connection on their own; they need not have it pointed out by Bremer or Greenstock in a way that will cause them to dig in their heels.

If anything significant occurs in my final week in Iraq, I will send it along, but otherwise, thanks for putting up with my diatribes and large attachments.


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From the April 21-27, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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