Iraq's Odious Debts

Guiding Iraq on a road to recovery

Niles Lathem
New York Post Online
August 3, 2007

WASHINGTON: Daily attacks on U.S. soldiers, infiltration of terrorists, and mischief-making by Iran and Syria have dominated the postwar headlines over the last two months – creating an image of a quagmire in the making.

But the guerrilla war is only a part of the story of what’s taking place in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, according to administration officials and outside experts.

Quietly and steadily, U.S. and coalition forces and the civilian administration have made real progress in rebuilding the Iraqi nation – a society, an economy and an infrastructure shattered by three decades of tyranny, war, neglect and corruption.

In just two months, 100 independent newspapers have started, garbage is regularly picked up off the streets, oil fields are running, banks are open and a vast majority of Iraqi university students have finished their final exams.

The humanitarian crisis many experts predicted has been averted.

“Although we might get the impression that our involvement over there is tottering on the edge of failure, the fact is that in two months, we have brought Iraq to a point in recovery that Germany, Italy and Japan after World War II didn’t reach until after a year and a half,” said Cmdr. Chris Isleib, spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Based on interviews with coalition authorites and experts, here’s The Post’s report card of the progress in Iraq.


Critics of the Bush administration’s war policy warned that a post-Saddam Iraq would explode into religious and ethnic tensions and would eventually become the Middle East version of the Balkans.

That has not happened.

Efforts to transition from coalition occupation to a new democratic government have been quicker and more efficient than in Afghanistan or the former Yugoslavia.

A governing council was formed earlier this month and on Tuesday, it announced that the presidency would rotate among a nine-member leadership committee.

Things are progressing so well that Paul Bremer, chief civilian administrator in Iraq, said in Baghdad last week, “It is not unrealistic to think that we could possibly have general elections by mid-2004, and that is when our work here will be done.”

Grade A

“The work being done to form a new government was clearly the most impressive thing we saw and is proceeding much more efficiently than anyone imagined it would,” said Bethsheba Crocker, part of a outside team invited to tour Iraq.

Health services

Basic health services have been restored to 90 percent of their prewar levels in the north, 80 percent in the south and 75 percent in Baghdad.

All 240 hospitals and 1,200 outpatient clinics are now open. The coalition says that 3,000 tons of medical supplies have been shipped into Iraq in the last 50 days.

United Arab Emirates, Italy and Japan are working to refurbish hospitals damaged by Saddam’s death squads during the war, and a new state-of-the-art outpatient clinic opened in Baghdad’s al-Mansur district last week.

But Iraq’s health-care situation is one of the most dire in the Middle East. Decades of corruption and mismanagement have left child- mortality rates and life expectancies at record poor levels.

Over the next six months, the coalition will earmark $210 million to be spent by the Ministry of Health. By contrast, Saddam only spent $20 million on health-care services in Iraq in 2002.

Grade A-

“The coalition has done a good job getting the health-care system back to prewar levels . . . Their next challenge will be to bring this system back to pre-sanctions levels and that will take more time and resources,” said Johanna Mendelson Forman, of the U.N. Foundation.

Food distribution

The widespread food crisis that experts predicted for Iraq before the war did not materialize.

Despite attacks by Saddam’s goon squads on food-distribution centers in an effort to create another Somalia, the overall system is up and running – and getting food to the Iraqi people.

The Pentagon says 1.2 million metric tons of food has entered Iraq since the end of the war and another 2.2 million metric tons will arrive by the end of October.

The Coalition Provision Authority has also been purchasing local harvests, including 450,000 metric tons of Iraqi wheat and more than 300,000 metric tons of Iraqi barley to keep Iraq’s fragile agriculture system intact.

Grade A

“There is plenty of food in the country,” said World Food Program spokesman Antonia Paradela.

Water and electricity

The biggest surprise and the biggest problem facing coalition forces after security.

Iraq’s electrical infrastructure was in poor shape after years of neglect before the war.

Now the power grid is being sabotaged almost daily by Saddam’s goon squads – adding to the misery of the Iraqi people and preventing the orderly flow of water, which depends on electricity for its pumping stations.

The coalition has made great efforts in recent weeks to improve the situation – getting 39,000 electrical workers back on the job and budgeting $294 million through December to make improvements. Water has been flowing from Kuwait for weeks giving Iraqis the supplies they need.

The coalition has also budgeted an additional $73 million through December for water and sewer projects.

Grade C

“We are not quite back at pre-war levels, but we are hoping we will be in a relatively small number of weeks,” said Andy Bearpack, director of operations and infrastructure for the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Law and order

The coalition has hired and is training a force of 34,000 Iraqi policemen patrolling in 58 of 89 Iraqi cities and will have 61,000 by the end of the year, as well as a civil-defense force of 7,000.

There are already 1,000 traffic police, 1,000 customs inspectors and 1,000 guards at key installations, according to recent figures released by Bernard Kerik, the former New York police commissioner in charge of rebuilding Iraq’s security.

The Iraqi army and a border-patrol force are now being reconstituted and about 11,000 people will soon be trained.

But the deaths of American soldiers in postwar combat and what is now clearly an organized, preplanned campaign by Saddam’s Ba’ath Party loyalists to sabotage Iraq’s electricity and water supplies is the No. 1 problem facing the coalition rebuilding efforts.

Pentagon officials have noted that the guerrilla war is mostly centered in the so-called Sunni triangle around Baghdad and Tikrit, where support for Saddam was the strongest, while other areas in the south, north and west are relatively tranquil.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other officials also noted that the 148,000 U.S. troops are arresting an average of 200 Ba’ath Party thugs a day, have seized more than 8,200 tons of ammunition, captured or killed 38 of the 55 most-wanted Iraqi regime figures, and have about 6,000 lower-level Ba’ath leaders in custody.

“Fighting is still going on, which slows our other efforts and creates fear and grief for Americans and Iraqis both. But it won’t last,” said Cmdr. Chris Isleib, spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Grade C

“The war plan clearly assumed a more benign postwar environment. The coalition did not have the resources needed, and it is still scrambling to catch up,” said James Dobbins, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center.

Economy and jobs

In disastrous shape before the war, the conditions are even more dire now.

The coalition estimated that more than 50 percent of the population was unemployed before the war.

Those numbers have grown with the dissolution of the Iraqi military and ministries and war damage to many businesses.

Even if oil production is restored to pre-sanctions levels, the revenues will have to support an Iraqi population that has tripled since the Gulf War in 1991.

Massive efforts are under way to repair the damage and transition from a Stalinist welfare state to a more vibrant free-market economy. But they have been hampered by the ongoing security crisis.

Recent progress includes independence of Iraq’s central bank and the establishment of a trading bank to guarantee payment for imported goods.

A new Iraqi currency will soon be introduced, giving the country the first single currency in its modern history, and efforts are under way in the governing council to rewrite ownership laws.

But the slow pace of economic recovery has created concern inside the Bush administration, which is considering tapping an expert to oversee efforts to attract foreign investment and aid as well as restructure Iraq’s debt, which has climbed to $28 billion, the largest debt per capita in human history.

Grade B

“The Coalition Provisional Authority needs to be very creative in the ways it handles the foreign debt, and it especially needs to be creative in the way it handles the oil revenues to make sure it reaches the Iraqi people,” said Barton, of the CSIS team.


All of Iraq’s universities are open, and a majority of Iraqi students were able to complete final exams that had been delayed during the war.

The coalition has already finished refurbishing 584 of the 1,000 Iraqi schools on its target list for reconstruction by September.

Many schools were damaged by the Ba’ath Party militias during the war and some later destroyed by looters.

The coalition expects half of the country’s schools to reopen in September, but many parents say they won’t send their children back to school until the streets are safer.

The coalition plans to provide new textbooks to most schools that will be devoid of Ba’athist and pro-Saddam ideology.

Grade B

“Yes, the university students finished their exams, but under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. The university I saw in Basra was indeed open, but there were packs of dogs roaming around, furniture was stripped, there were no blackboards,” said Frank Barton, one of the Center for Strategic and International Studies experts invited by the Pentagon to tour Iraq.


One of the big success stories of the war was the military’s Special Forces operations to seize control of Iraq’s valuable oil fields and prevent Saddam from destroying them.

The fields are now up and running, and the land mines have been removed from the vital southern port of Um Qasar.

Iraq is now once again on the world oil market, giving the strife-torn country the future economic capability to rebuild its shattered economy.

But the Pentagon-organized team that visited Iraq found that the infrastructure was more badly damaged and neglected than the coalition had anticipated in its prewar planning and that sabotage and the ongoing electricity woes have been creating problems.

As a result, only 1.3 million barrels of oil a day are being pumped from the world’s second-largest oil reserves.

That’s far short of the 2.5 million barrels a day that were being pumped before Operation Iraqi Freedom and the 3.5 million barrels a day that were being produced before the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Grade B

“I think it came as a surprise to everyone just how badly degraded the oil infrastructure was and how much of an effort it will take to get this vital part of Iraq’s economy fully functioning again,” Crocker said.

With Post Wire Services

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