Fables of the Iraqi reconstruction

Geraldine Sealey
April 21, 2004 7:36PM (UTC)

An important story by reporter Jason Vest is running in several alternative newsweeklies. Fables of Reconstruction shows, despite rosy predictions and spinning by Bush administration officials, that the chances of stabilizing Iraq and establishing a strong democracy there are seriously endangered. The piece is based on a redacted memo written by an unnamed Coalition Provisional Authority official in March. The memo is also posted online.

Here's a portion: "Despite the progress evident in the streets of Baghdad, much of which happens despite us rather than because of us, Baghdadis have an uneasy sense that they are heading toward civil war. Sunnis, Shia, and Kurd professionals say that they themselves, friends, and associates are buying weapons fearing for the future. CPA is ironically driving the weapons market: Iraqi police sell their lost U.S.-supplied weapons on the black market; they are promptly re-supplied. Interior ministry weapons buy-backs keep the price of arms high."


"The frequent explosions, many of which are not reported in the mainstream media, are a constant reminder of uncertainty. When a blast occurs, residents check their watch. If its on the hour, chances are that its a controlled explosion destroying confiscated ordnance. The explosions are frequent. Twice in recent days, nearby explosions woke me up. I was staying with friends on the opposite side of the Mansour district when a loud explosion rattled the windows apparently when rockets hit the nearby phone exchange. Given that I had gone to sleep at around 3 a.m., it had to be big to wake me. (As an aside, most Iraqi politicking occurs between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m., and so if CPA bases its cables on Governing Council meetings and an occasional dinner with primary actors, it is missing a great deal.) This morning, I heard a loud blast at 8:40 a.m. My guards told me I slept through an explosion a bit earlier."

"We have made the most progress in Baghdad; the south may be calm, but it seems the calm before the storm. I do not think that a deliberate bombing such as we saw in Karbala or Khadimiya will be the trigger for a civil war. Rather, I worry about deeper conflicts that revolve around patronage and absolutism. Bremer has encouraged re-centralization in Iraq because it is easier to control a Governing Council less than a kilometer away from the Palace rather than 18 different provincial councils who would otherwise have budgetary authority. The net affect, however, has been desperation to dominate Baghdad, and an absolutism borne of regional isolation. The interim constitution moves things in the right direction, but the constitution is meaningless if we are not prepared to confront challenges."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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