1/15/2005

The False Promise of Iraqi Reconstruction

Michael Schwartz of "TomGram":
Even before the attack, the U.S. promised that a newly liberated Falluja would be spectacularly reconstructed -- "a feat of social and physical engineering… intended to transform a bastion of militant anti-Americanism into a benevolent and functional metropolis." But actions always speak louder than words, and six weeks after declaring victory the only new construction in the city consisted of a series of checkpoints (where soldiers recorded the fingerprints and retina scans of returning residents), and the newly bulldozed main streets (whose use was restricted to U.S. military vehicles). This police-state approach reflected what Charles Hess, the Director of the Iraq Project and Contracting Office and the man in charge of the city's reconstruction, called a "near term…focus on operational security measures."
But the deepest tragedy lay not in the "near term," but in the near certainty that the promised reconstruction will never take place, simply because the Bush administration is unlikely ever to allocate the massive resources needed for such an undertaking. The monetary commitment cited by U.S. officials escalated from a pre-attack $50 million to an early January estimate of $230 million. But this figure, which Hess claimed to be adequate for the job, is actually a fraction of what would needed to recreate a modestly working city and a minuscule proportion of the total required to create "a benevolent and functional metropolis."
The inadequacy of allocation can be judged by considering infrastructure repairs. Based on the estimated $400 million cost of repairing the less disastrously damaged Sadr City water systems in Baghdad, the repair of Falluja's sewers and treatment plants would in itself surely exhaust the entire $230 million allocation being discussed. The electrical system, which needed to be "ripped out and rebuilt from scratch," would cost at least as much as the sewers. Rejuvenating the medical system, rebuilding the schools, and clearing and rebuilding the streets, would likely claim another $100 million or more each.
And that's without even considering housing repair. The Iraqi Interim Government promised families from $2000 to $10,000 for each damaged dwelling. With 12,000 to 20,000 of the 50,000 homes in Falluja effectively demolished, this added up to yet another $200 million promise, with another $100 million needed to meet the government's promises to shop owners.
And remember that Falluja, the "city of mosques," now has had an unknown but significant number of its 100 or so mosques more or less annihilated, and well over half damaged. Christian Parenti, a knowledgeable independent reporter, estimated that just two of the mosques would require some $80 million in repairs; the full bill might therefore exceed $1 billion.
Total this up and you discover that the promised allocation for the reconstruction of Falluja is at least $2 billion less than would reasonably be needed. And, given the record of reconstruction funds released by the Americans over the last year, even the $230 million is certainly in question.
In other words, the promise of a "benevolent and functional metropolis" could be seen, at best, as a cruel hoax, vitiated only slightly by the fact that Fallujans never believed it.
If the American occupation authorities have their way, Falluja may remain a wasteland until the resistance is subdued. The promises of freedom, elections, and a benevolent metropolis were all empty ones. Even Charles Hess, in charge of reconstruction, admitted in December that "little reconstruction has been done" in either Najaf or Samarra, the predecessor beneficiaries of a similar style of American liberation. And Falluja, seen as more hostile territory than either of the other two cities, may not even have their "luck."
Many of the recently returning refugees heard or saw battles from the checkpoints and retreated without entering the city. Others viewed their damaged or destroyed homes and then left. Still others stayed one night and then chose a homeless odyssey over residence in what was left of their city.
But a few stayed, and they will try to begin the process of rebuilding. And herein lies the greatest tragedy of all. The miracle of the human spirit can (and eventually will) redeem even so desolate a wasteland. But this redemption must wait, because the presence of the U.S. military -- with its retina scans, its prohibition on all non-military vehicles inside city limits, its constant surveillance, its threats of and use of deadly force, its monopoly over all resources and, most of all, its quixotic effort to subdue the resistance -- makes even the beginning of reconstruction impossible.

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