Don't Panic! May 21 2003

Your war questions answered

How is the reconstruction in Iraq going so far?

For some, the reconstruction of Iraq is going better than they ever could have imagined. According to a recent report, Iraq's Looter Confidence Index is at 78, up five points since late April and its highest number since Hulagu, Genghis Khan's chip-off-the-(Mong)ol'-block grandson, trashed Baghdad in 1258. A CBS/New York Times poll of Halliburton executives shows that 84 percent of them believe "Iraq's reconstruction is the best thing that has ever happened EVER EVER." The remaining 16 percent were too busy lighting cigars with $100 bills to respond.

For just about everyone else though, our post-war management of Iraq has been pathetic. Prior to the war, we heard months of Joe Namath-like guarantees of quick military victory. How is it then that we are seemingly caught completely off-guard by the predictable consequences of Saddam's downfall? It seems the White House's post-war planning didn't go very far beyond choreographing George W. "Maverick" Bush's Top Gun re-enactment on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Devastatingly handsome and sharp-witted newspaper columnists aren't the only people who think Iraq is being managed poorly. Bush does too. That's why he just replaced Jay Garner, the retired general he appointed to be Iraq's Ty Pennington. Delicately put, Garner's efforts were ineffective. Why be delicate though? Garner's team was incompetent. I'm sure their intentions were good, but so what? The highway to the danger zone is paved with good intentions.

Under Garner, Iraq has made little progress toward reconstruction. Between 40 percent and 50 percent of Baghdad remains without electricity. Water and gasoline are in short supply, schools and hospitals are shut down, and law and order is nowhere to be found. (And no, I'm not talking about the TV show, although without electricity, they don't have that either). Scarier still, the U.N. is warning that Iraq's farming sector is on the brink of a collapse and by summer could leave 25 million Iraqis hungry.

The disorder has prompted religious leaders around the country to fill the power and organization vacuum with local militias. Once an Iraqi government starts forming, it's likely that some of these militias won't surrender their local control without a fight. Anyone for civil war?

If you like our civil administration of Iraq, you'll absolutely love our search for weapons of mass destruction. The American team charged with looking for Iraqi WMDs will soon end its search, after finding three trailers they believe were mobile biological weapons labs. But the trailers contained neither weapons nor evidence of them. I'm not saying that Iraq didn't have WMDs, but someone from the White House might wanna explain how a chemical and biological weapons program can be big enough to inspire a war, but small enough that we can't find it.

At the same time that we failed to find their chemical and biological weapons, we failed to guard the Tuwaitha nuclear research facility from looters. Tuwaitha wasn't a secret to American planners. It's the site of the Osirak nuclear reactor that Israel bombed in 1981 to cripple Iraq's nuclear weapons program. Drums of radioactive materials looted from the facility are currently sitting in a nearby school (near Tuwaitha, not you). The International Atomic Energy Agency, the group Bush occasionally calls the IEAE, is dying to get in and examine the site, but the U.S. won't let them. Tom Cruise is dyslexic too, you know.

Not surprisingly, one of the few bits of post-Saddam rule that Bush & Co. seem to have planned well-ahead of time was the secret awarding in March of complete control of Iraq's oil industry to Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton. (Before he was our president, Cheney was Halliburton's president.) No other company was given an opportunity to bid on the work, despite KB&R's past record of fraudulent billing and Halliburton's record of doing illegal business with terrorist nations. It kinda takes my breath away.


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