Witnesses at a congressional hearing in have told members of Congress the inability of the U.S. led Coalition Provisional Authority to restore security in Iraq may have irretrievably damaged the confidence of Iraqis in the future of the country.
Republicans and Democrats are often at odds over how the Bush administration has handled Iraq, but all are apprehensive about the upcoming June 30 handover of sovereignty to a transitional Iraqi government.
Another point on which there is considerable shared anxiety is how the United States is perceived as that transition draws near, and what the consequences of that will be for the post-transition period.
In a congressional hearing, Republican Congressman Christopher Shays presented this picture from one of his previous visits to Iraq. "We also saw a rigid, centralized, Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) at times succumbing to hubris and condescension in dealing with a sovereign people it was created to serve. Many Iraqis noticed. In that hostile terrain, our accomplishments whither quickly while our errors are grotesquely magnified," he said.
Testifying before the subcommittee was Iraq's representative to the United States, Rend al-Rahim.
There should never be any doubt, she says, that removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do. However, she identifies what she calls major mistakes, conflicting policies by the CPA, the decision to occupy Iraq, and the removal, although temporary, of Iraqi sovereignty.
"Occupation has proven to be practically unworkable," he said. "With the collapse of the old regime, the political and security infrastructure of the country were dismantled and the logic of occupation allowed the ensuing political, and security vacuum to persist. This was a mistake that still haunts us. With the occupation came the suppression of Iraqi sovereignty, another policy decision Iraqis warned against before military action."
Rend al-Rahim and another witness, Samer Shehata, of Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, both emphasized the importance of security.
Mr. Shehata says the war for Iraqi hearts and minds may already be lost. The lack of security remains the number one issue, he says, and without it all future efforts are placed in doubt.
"Security is key, it is foundational to all public diplomacy efforts, as well as to post-war reconstruction, investment, commerce, civic involvement, education and everyday life," he said. "Every element of Iraqi society is dependent on the maintenance of security, and the absence of security acts as a bottleneck on what can be achieved in all of these fields."
Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, also points to what she calls key reversals in how the provisional authority managed the country.
"We lost credibility in other ways as well. The CPA has reversed itself on key decisions such as de-Baathification, it's abandoned the Kurds to the political fates recently, the CPA has announced that we are against Baath terrorists but then deals with them in Fallujah, it authorized the indictment of Muqtada al-Sadr as a murderer but then made deals with him too," he said. "In these reversals, some of which we can debate about, we have signaled weakness and terrorists have taken advantage of those weaknesses."
In her testimony, Iraqi representative Rend al-Rahim said it is critical to keep one thing in mind. "It is important to recognize that the picture is not all gloomy and dark in Iraq, and I want to make that statement first and foremost. Iraqis did welcome the coalition forces as liberators. There have been many successes, although many challenges also remain," he said.
Rend al-Rahim, Iraq's representative to the United States, speaking on Capitol Hill.