Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Second Question

[posted by Callimachus]

First part

Second Part

This is the third of a six-part series of posts was written by our friend Kat, the contractor's employee who worked on reconstruction projects in and around Iraq after the fall of Saddam. Her story is told here and here among other places (listed in the sidebar at left).

As far as I know, the only anti-Administration blogger to really take up these pieces and accept then into his broader view of the war was Kevin Robinson's My Thinking Corner.

Kevin asked Kat some questions about her impressions and her experiences, which she answered, with elaborations, at his site. With Kevin's permission, I'm reprinting her answers, lightly edited, as posts here, since they are interesting in their own right and they broaden and deepen the story she told in the series of posts last month.

Kevin's questions are in italics, and quotes. Emphasis added, in boldface, is by the editor.

October 17

“Second Question – Which projects appeared to have priority?”

In terms of answering the taxpayer's question, “What have I been paying for?” the first projects were primarily the establishment of U.S. military base requirements. These include the securing and establishment of the so-called Green Zone, but also a series of major bases, outposts, and forts scattered throughout the country.

Everything required to secure, feed, and bed soldiers and marines had to be either built or improved. Equipment required secure locations for storage and maintenance as well. Just as importantly, these facilities had to be constructed quickly, with all materials and equipment required for their construction obtained and placed on site, and construction completed ASAP, often under poor security conditions.

The infamous KBR convoy massacre is a fair example of what had to be dealt with during that process, with blame rightly being placed on both KBR and the military, but with little or no consideration of the actual mission or the map-reading mistake that ultimately set the scene for the disaster.

Second in importance were vital services, such as electricity or repairs to damaged water and sewer systems. This proved to be substantially more difficult than initially expected, partially due to war damage but largely due to long-term neglect under Saddam. For example, it was not unusual to replace an obviously damaged valve on a water supply system only to find that once pressure was placed on the balance of the line, three other valves (not to be found anywhere in Iraq) promptly blew, or whole sections of pipe split, or leaks developed around hundreds of packing joints and gaskets.

Simultaneously, work began on the restoration of oil and natural gas production facilities and refineries. A great deal has been made over the U.S. decision to immediately begin these efforts, fueling the “We only did it for the oil” argument. But the idea behind it was actually quite simple and far from sinister.

Oil and gas production in Iraq is the primary source of that nation’s income. It is also a significant source of employment for Iraqis, both directly and indirectly. As such, it was felt that restoration and improvement of this industry would allow the nation to immediately begin to restore itself economically and thus reduce the immediate and future costs of restoration to the U.S. and other donor nations.

Additional projects included the restoration or construction of schools, hospitals, and government offices for basic services including police. Port facilities in Basra also required work.

Somewhat below this level is the restoration of facilities for the Iraqi military. Restoration of southern marshlands was also included within the scope of the original work being planned and funded.

The methods by which these projects have been completed has varied wildly, from volunteer activities carried out by members of the military to open-ended contracts initially held by U.S. corporations. The success levels have varied as well, as has the quality of the finished products. Some schools are on par with European examples, while others are little more than empty shells with doors and fresh paint.

Hospitals have been a major problem, but they actually bring us up to the latest efforts being made in Iraq. Hopefully you will understand the strategy.

In all of the above efforts, as well as in the efforts made to establish the base of a new Iraqi government, it was discovered that Iraqis, on the whole, were simply not sufficiently educated or experienced in higher level government, manual, and business skills to properly run their own government in an open type of society. Rules and organizational capabilities were remarkably absent, and highly skilled labor was almost unknown.

Iraqis are well educated in a general way, but few have had any cause to exercise their educations in real-world situations for the last twenty years. And where labor is concerned, skilled trades people such as millwrights or machinists are virtually nonexistent. That’s not because we killed them all, but because there was so little new construction or repair work done for almost a generation. So from the top down, Iraqis are simply not ready to handle their own government, their own services, or their own industries without first receiving advanced training and supervision. It’s not that they’re stupid, and not that they’re unwilling to learn or don’t want to do the work. It’s just that they don’t yet know how to.

As a result, a lot of expensive equipment has been left sitting idle, or worse, is now damaged from lack of skilled operation or repair. A lot of money has been wasted, and a lot of time has been lost. But we have begun to address this issue with new training programs. We have also backed off of certain projects until Iraqis are sufficiently trained to carry them out on their own.

As a result, reconstruction has slowed somewhat for the time being, but in the end projects should employ more Iraqis and allow them to fully understand what they have built and maintain them properly for themselves. That tends to develop their pride, and a desire to protect what has been built. With luck, these aspects will strengthen Iraqi will against those who wish to see their society in chaos.

You may ask the obvious question, “Why on earth did you let people who couldn’t manage things be in charge of expensive stuff?” Well, the world didn’t exactly throw itself into Iraq to help rebuild it, and in truth, the idea from the start was to let Iraqis take control of their own country. Additionally, Iraq, like many other places on the globe, has a culture wherein not knowing how to do something is considered bad, and lying about capabilities to save face is the norm. It takes a while for Americans to get used to this, whether we’re dealing with it in Iraq, India, or Thailand. When you have efforts this big, with cultural and educational differences this large, you’re going to make some mistakes. It happens.

Fourth Part

Fifth Part

Sixth Part