Middle East specialists who have just returned from Iraq say the new Iraqi government is working, but they are expressing concern that when an interim administration takes control June 30 there will still be major security and economic problems in the country. The analysts are also urging that U.S. aid to reconstruct Iraq be speeded up.
The deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Patrick Clawson, led a group of specialists on an independent trip to Iraq. Their goal was to assess progress in rebuilding the nation's economy and providing security from insurgents and common criminals.
Mr. Clawson says while U.S. policies are achieving significant success in some areas, that is getting little attention, but whenever something goes wrong, U.S. officials are criticized, regardless of who is at fault.
"Another disturbing trend is that the United States gets full blame for shortcomings and no credit for successes," he said. "I can recall very few times when anyone said anything good about what the United States has done in Iraq, other than to praise us for kicking out Saddam."
Last November, the U.S. Congress approved a supplemental budget containing more than $18 billion to rebuild Iraq.
Mr. Clawson says that money is not yet being spent in ways that are obvious to the average Iraqi. "While many of the criticisms are exaggerated, it is fair to blame the United States for the slow pace of aid," he said. "The supplemental has not kicked in. Few expect the aid program to be making a noticeable difference until at least six months from now, if not much longer. The reconstruction effort, the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq, is drowning in red tape. And the situation is going to get more complicated after June 30."
That is the date the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) is scheduled to hand over power to an interim Iraqi government.
The group of Middle East specialists entered Iraq from Turkey and traveled throughout the country, visiting Kurdish areas in the north, Baghdad, Basra and south to the border with Kuwait.
Soner Cagaptay, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says he believes news coverage that focuses on the continuing violence in Iraq exaggerates the security situation.
Mr. Cagaptay says while serious attacks by insurgents occur repeatedly in the so-called Sunni triangle north and west of Baghdad, this has had little impact on the average Iraqi.
"I think the CPA is doing a terrific job," he said. "Much of the country feels very secure in terms of control over insurgency, as well as the Baathist loyalists. Having said this though, I think the problem remains and that is a problem of what I would call soft-core security. That is security in terms of law and order. In much of the country you get the feeling that this is not a state of law and order yet, and in fact it is a state where the nascent police force, which is now being established, has got a long way to go."
The Coalition Provisional Authority says as more policemen are trained the crime rate is dropping. According to the CPA, there has been a 39 percent reduction in crime in Baghdad over the past two months, while crime in the southern city of Basra has dropped by 70 percent.
Overall, Middle East specialist Patrick Clawson says much improvement has occurred in Iraq since his previous visit last September.
Mr. Clawson expresses concern, however, that the transition to an Iraqi government could still be difficult. "I am impressed by how much progress has been made in the last five months in getting an Iraqi government up and running," he said. "I am optimistic that over the next five months much more can be done. But I remain very nervous that the new government, if it takes over on June 30, will be very much one that is on training wheels [that is inexperienced] and that it could look like it is a replay of the British experience of being a façade of democratic institutions behind which there still is imperial control."
According to Mr. Clawson, transferring power next June is risky, but not making such a transfer will renew Iraqi concerns that the United States is planning a lengthy occupation of the country.
The Coalition Provisional Authority is currently working with the Iraqi Governing Council and the United Nations to prepare for the transition to full Iraqi sovereignty in June.