Wednesday, July 21, 2004

A Vew From the CPA

A fairly high-ranking official in the Coalition Provisional Authority was a local guy, Don Eberly. After the CPA's mission wound up last month, one of our reporters did an interview with him and wrote up a story. Due perhaps to the newspaper's continuing lack of interest in anything to do with the redevelopment of Iraq, however, the story hasn't run.

Here's a few excerpts: Eberly has been with the CPA since March 2003. He lived in Iraq for nearly four months, overseeing and reconstructing the Ministry of Youth and Sport, one of 24 ministries rebuilt by the authority. After he came back to the States, Eberly worked as the director of social policy, advising senior staff members in Iraq in education, higher education (particularly the universities), health, youth and sport, labor, and social affairs. Now that the authority is officially dissolved, Eberly is putting the finishing touches on the transition of power in Iraq and the coordination of privately donated equipment and supplies from U.S. companies.

"A lot of what is going on in Iraq now involves a huge amount of oversight and coordination with Washington. There are serious bucks going into Iraq. With the CPA phase-out, we're facing huge demands from Congress for basic reporting. 'How are you doing with education?' 'How are you doing with health?' 'How are you spending our money on contractors and subcontractors?' 'What's the state of reconstruction across dozens and dozens of categories?' "

Sometimes he runs the pick for Iraqi officials, tackling issues before they become problems.

"Part of our mission, in fact -- to use football terms -- is to be the defensive line. Because we do what we do, people in Iraq are not bothered every day with calls that come from Congress and the media. We're the front-line representatives."

Eberly said the now-defunct authority is still moving computers, high technology supplies, health care supplies and equipment, pharmaceuticals and educational supplies to Iraq on behalf of mostly U.S. companies.

"I just shipped 30,000 medical textbooks about (a month ago)."

"I do not at all sugarcoat reality in Iraq. I don't see any purpose served in that. We're not serving the people well by being anything less than forthright. The negatives are already well-known. We know about the security challenges. We know about the insurgency. In America, we say location, location, location; in Iraq we say the top three issues are security, security, security."

"Yet Iraq does not have a general insurgency like the one U.S. troops faced in Vietnam. If there were a general insurgency, we'd all be in big trouble. The truth is that it is a quite limited insurgency. One that's large enough to do substantial damage on a daily basis, but it is, in fact, quite isolated."

"There are vast areas of the country where Iraqis are essentially getting on with their lives. There has been, long before the creation of the CPA, a lot of local Iraqi leadership. They're running the towns and cities and are managing municipal services and organizing town councils. A good bit of the country is actually working relatively normal."

Bue he said the insurgency has succeeded in opening a rift of "pervasive fear and mistrust" between the Iraqi people and U.S. soldiers.

"It is a very unfortunate side effect and makes doing the job a lot harder. There is a lot of barber-chair concern among Iraqis about things that are going on in Iraq."

Eberly said there was a bipartisan agreement that regime change should be made in Iraq. Sept. 11 deepened those concerns.

"Most people standing where the president stood at the moment in time when the final decision had to be made would probably have made the same decision. The weapons of mass destruction issue will remain with us for a long time and I have no idea how it will settle out in history. People have a tendency to forget that Saddam Hussein was himself, in the words of the Iraqi people, a weapon of mass destruction."

Eberly said, most forecasters are predicting significant progress this year in Iraq's economy. "This is locally generated economic growth. It should be a pretty solid year. It's hard to see that kind of progress when your television screen is filled with violence and destruction."

"One of the interesting questions, I think, that history will ask is, 'Did we handle de-Baathification properly?' You've got to get rid of the people who were sympathizers of the previous regime. And that's where it gets complicated because it's gray. How do I know where your sympathies are, Mr. Senior Baath Party official? What was your role?"

Eberly said there was a blanket policy that the top three levels of the Baath Party government had to go.

"Then we had a policy inviting officials back on a case-by-case basis. That gets complicated because one of the biggest concerns is, what do you do with the people who had power?"

Many were mere administrators who had committed no crimes. Yet many couldn't be invited into the new administration because their ideologies were in doubt.

"The minute you relinquish control, they have all the advantages, in a worst-case scenario. They've got connections and can easily take advantage."

But they couldn't just be left idle. "You're talking about some very talented people. People who had all the power before and knew all the tricks of the trade when it came to manipulating the political environment to go about achieving what they want."

The Iraqi army faces a similar problem. "The question there is, 'Should we invite the previous army back?' Some of them are professional soldiers and will show allegiance to whoever is in power. This kind of soldier is not an ideologue. But if you eliminate a professional soldier and disarm and shame him in front of his family and community, you've got a big problem."

"De-Baathification was the toughest part of our jobs as senior advisors. I spent so much time on De-Baathification because any blanket approach was not adequate. It almost had to be case by case. It's like schools of fish in the ocean swimming together. You don't know friend from foe when it comes to political issues. It is impossible to have a high success rate when it comes to hiring back someone who served in a mid-level capacity in Saddam Hussein's government. It's extremely difficult to get that right. You're talking about thousands of people."

"De-Baathification was extremely complicated. If you didn't drill down far enough, if you didn't dig deep enough, in terms of removing close ideological ties to the old administration, it would be like replacing Hitler without removing Hitler's Nazi party."