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US Experts Discuss Rebuilding of Iraq - 2003-03-12


Possible U.S.-led military action against Iraq is the topic of much debate in Washington. One subject that's drawing particular attention is how to rebuild a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

Many experts in Washington agree on one thing about a possible war with Iraq: post-conflict reconstruction of the country is just as important, if not more so, than victory on the battlefield.

A recent forum sponsored by the non-governmental group Search for Common Ground, highlighted this point.

"The stakes are very high, not only for the U.S. government, but also for the region and, I think, there is broad recognition of that," said Bathsheba Crocker, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She noted that some of the immediate post-conflict concerns include detaining and retraining Iraqi soldiers and paying back debt Iraq owes to other countries.

"Once Saddam is gone," she said, "these countries are going to start to want to get paid back, and this has actually been part of the negotiations between the administration and its allies - our friends and allies, particularly Russia - about whether it's going to get access to existing oil contracts and whether it's going to be paid back on its debt."

Ms. Crocker pointed out that the debt repayment issue is important because the billions of dollars used to pay Iraq's debt responsibilities would mean there is less money available for reconstruction efforts.

Patrick Clawson, of the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy, said another major concern for U.S. troops will be maintaining ethnic harmony. He favors a federalist system of government for Iraq, whose lines are drawn according to geographic region and not ethnicity.

"I hope," he said, "that what we do is encourage a geographic-based diffusion of power and not a diffusion of power based on ethnic groups."

Mr. Clawson thinks Iraqis are capable of carrying out their own humanitarian work after a war, pointing to the extensive food rationing system that was put in place after the 1991 gulf war.

"They have 55,000 distribution points," he said. "They have an extensive personnel on the ground, and these are Iraqis. There is, in other words, the most extensive humanitarian infrastructure in the world in place in Iraq. It's run by Iraqis."

According to Mr. Clawson, once the hostilities cease, the U.S. military should focus on providing the security environment in which the existing infrastructure can function.

Kenneth Bacon, a former Pentagon spokesman who now heads the non-governmental group Refugees International, fears the military will have too many other things to worry about.

"One would be the location, the securing and eventual destruction of weapons of mass destruction," he said. "Another would be providing security in what could be very vicious, ethnically torn, sectarian challenged situation, where there could be many religious, ethnic, tribal and other difficulties, including the general move for revenge and retribution against the [ruling] Baath Party or elements of the government."

Mr. Bacon says he feels Iraq is facing an uncertain future and that the post-war effort there should be international.

"We have to be prepared for both very good outcomes and very bad outcomes," he said. "And that's why I think it's very important to look to other ways to deal with humanitarian aid and reconstruction, and to look for multinational ways to do it."

For Ms. Crocker, the difficulties the United States is having garnering international support for a war against Iraq may complicate post-war reconstruction.

"In Kosovo, there was no U.N. Security Council resolution or approval of the bombing effort," she said, "but it was at least a NATO effort, so it had a little more broad support than this one might do. And then the United Nations did vote for the international civilian administration after the war."

She added this might happen again, but cautions that the diplomatic wrangling taking place now may make it more difficult to get international support for efforts to rebuild Iraq in the future.