A "heck of a job" for Iraq

A Washington Post reporter details how ideology trumped competence at the CPA.

Published September 18, 2006 7:21PM (EDT)

So it turns out that members of the Baath Party weren't the only ones banned from government jobs in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. As Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran reported over the weekend, a Bush administration political appointee did his best to ensure that Democrats didn't work in Iraq, either.

In an adaptation from his new book, Chandrasekaran says that the Pentagon's Jim O'Beirne screened Americans who wanted to work in "post-war" Iraq to make sure that they were sufficiently loyal to the George W. Bush administration and his larger political agenda. Among the questions some applicants heard from O'Beirne and his staff: Did you vote for Bush in 2000? Do you support the way he's fighting the war on terrorism? What do you think about Roe v. Wade?

If those inquiries don't seem designed to identify the most "qualified" applicants for rebuilding a country, well, they weren't and they didn't. "Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience," Chandrasekaran writes. "A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance -- but had applied for a White House job -- was sent to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a background in accounting."

Chandrasekaran says that the decision to send the "loyal and the willing" rather than the "best and the brightest" meant the CPA was staffed with a lot of people who were more interested in imposing a conservative agenda -- "in instituting a flat tax, in selling off government assets, in ending food rations" -- than in dealing with slightly more pressing matters like security, electricity and the formation of an independent Iraqi government.

So why don't we hear more about the success of Iraq as an incubator for conservative ideas? Maybe it's because those pesky car bombs are still too loud. More than 40 people were killed by bombers and gunmen in Iraq today, and the Associated Press says security forces are preparing for more of the same as the holy month of Ramadan approaches.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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