Iran, Syria seen tied to slay­ing of Le­banese

As­sas­si­na­tion called at­tack on U.S. Mideast role

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Sharon Behn

The brazen as­sas­si­na­tion of Chris­tian Cabi­net min­is­ter Pierre Ge­mayel on Nov. 21 has pushed Le­banon’s frag­ile democ­racy, her­alded by the United States as a model for the re­gion, to the brink of col­lapse.

Com­ing amid moves by Syria and Iran to im­prove re­la­tions with Iraq, the killing also was seen by an­a­lysts as part of a co­or­di­nated at­tempt to push the United States out of the Mid­dle East.

“This is part of a broader ef­fort on the part of Syr­i­ans and Ira­ni­ans in their own iso­la­tion to prove they have lever­age over events in the re­gion and to min­i­mize the role of the U.S. in the re­gion,” said for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador to Morocco, Marc Gins­berg.

Sus­pi­cion im­me­di­ately fo­cused on Syria, which stands to be deeply em­bar­rassed by a pro­posed in­ter­na­tional tri­bunal that would in­ves­ti­gate its sus­pected role in the killing of for­mer Le­banese Prime Min­is­ter Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005.

The U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil ap­proved plans for the tri­bunal hours af­ter the killing, but it must still be

other news­pa­pers, has pub­lished a se­ries of ar­ti­cles on set­backs and cor­rup­tion. But, the Pen­tagon con­tends there is an­other sto­ry­line.

“It’s quite a heroic story ma­ligned of­ten by the news me­dia,” Mr. Popps said dur­ing an in­ter­view in his E-Ring Pen­tagon of­fice. A nearby mul­ti­col­ored map des­ig­nates hun­dreds of projects started and com­pleted, from Mo­sul to Basra.

Stu­art Bowen, the spe­cial in­spec­tor gen­eral for Iraq re­con­struc­tion, has is­sued a steady stream of re­ports re­veal­ing fraud and mis­man­age­ment. Per­haps his most dam­ag­ing find­ing was that nearly a quar­ter of $37 bil­lion in United Na­tions-se­cured oil money — not U.S. tax­payer funds — shipped to Iraq can­not be traced and was likely stolen.

But Mr. Bowen has said fraud in­volv­ing U.S. money, while se­ri­ous, is not wide­spread and that the huge ma­jor­ity of projects pro­ceeded as re­quired. And, a Bowen re­port to Congress last sum­mer seemed to back up Mr. Popps’ mes­sage of progress.

“Al­though the story of Iraq re­con­struc­tion has been punc­tu­ated by short­falls and de­fi­cien­cies, the in­fra­struc­ture over­view pro­vided [in] this quar­terly re­port presents a pic­ture of sig­nif­i­cant progress achieved through a sub­stan­tial U.S. in­vest­ment of time, tal­ent and tax dol­lars in Iraq’s re­lief and re­con­struc­tion.”

Mr. Popps said it is first im­por­tant to un­der­stand what the re­build­ing team in­her­ited. U.S. intelligence knew lit­tle about the ac­tual state of Iraq’s en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture and so­cial ser­vice net­work. When the Army Corps of En­gi­neers got on the ground, there was shock:

The three re­gional sewage treat­ments plants in greater Bagh­dad did not work; raw waste poured into the Tigris River and down­stream through vil­lages. Sadr City, the im­pov­er­ished Shi’ite slum re­pressed by the rul­ing Sunni Ba’ath Party, lacked any sewage sys­tem. “Some slam the Amer­i­cans be­cause there is sewage in Sadr City,” said an in­cred­u­lous Mr. Popps. “Please.”

Few towns had a cen­tral sup­ply of clean wa­ter.

The elec­tri­cal grid suf­fered un­der 1950s tech­nol­ogy and dis­re­pair. Sad­dam Hus­sein starved the rest of the coun­try of power to give the cap­i­tal of 6 mil­lion about 20 hours a day.

The coun­try lacked any pri­mary health care fa­cil­i­ties; hos­pi­tals and schools were run down and lacked sup­plies. New hos­pi­tals had not been built in 20 years. More than half the pub­lic health cen­ters re­mained closed. Of 13,000 schools, more than 10,000 needed sig­nif­i­cant ren­o­va­tions.

The Pen­tagon in 2003 sum­moned Amer­i­can firms to get re­con­struc­tion started in the ab­sence of Iraqi min­istries that could su­per­vise and a private sec­tor that was in sham­bles un­der Sad­dam’s to­tal­i­tar­ian rule.

“The min­istries were jammed with peo­ple who did noth­ing,” Mr. Popps said. “They sat around and smoked and drank tea and held ‘worry beads.’ It was an econ­omy based on in­com­pe­tence and cor­rup­tion.”

The Pen­tagon handed out a score sheet:

Six new pri­mary care fa­cil­i­ties, with 66 more un­der con­struc­tion; 11 hos­pi­tals ren­o­vated; more than 800 schools fixed up; more than 300 po­lice sta­tions and fa­cil­i­ties and 248 border con­trol forts.

Added 407,000 cu­bic me­ters per day of wa­ter treat­ment; a new sewage-treat­ment sys­tem for Basra; work on Bagh­dad’s three plants con­tin­ues; oil pro­duc­tion ex­ceeds the 2002 level of 2 mil­lion bar­rels a day by 500,000.

The Min­istry of Elec­tric­ity now sends power to Bagh­dad for four to eight hours a day, and 10 to 12 for the rest of the coun­try. Iraqis are now free to buy con­sumer items such as gen­er­a­tors, which pro­vide some homes with power around-the-clock.

Mr. Popps said all this was ac­com­plished de­spite a con­certed ef­fort by ter­ror­ists to bomb con­struc­tion sites and kill work­ers. The Nov. 16 kid­nap­ping of private con­trac­tors south of Bagh­dad il­lus­trates the prob­lem. The State De­part­ment was forced to in­crease spend­ing on se­cu­rity, up to $5 bil­lion of the $20 bil­lion, or risk los­ing more projects to sabo­teurs.

The Army Corps has fer­ried re­porters to what it con­sid­ers suc­cess­ful sites in an ef­fort to get a few pos­i­tive sto­ries on re­con­struc­tion. But rarely do any ma­te­ri­al­ize, Mr. Popps said.

“What has hurt the pub­lic per­cep­tion of re­con­struc­tion is in­com­plete leaks to the me­dia that there is a prob­lem with a par­tic­u­lar project,” he said. “What is sexy to re­porters is a po­lice sta­tion that has urine in the ceil­ing. That’s what the press prefers to talk about rather than the great suc­cesses we have made.”

The “urine” ref­er­ence was con­tained in the latest bad news story about re­con­struc­tion in Iraq. Mr. Bowen re­ported in Septem­ber he was re­view­ing all projects done by the Cal­i­for­nia-based Par­sons Corp. in the af­ter­math of find­ing se­ri­ous plumb­ing prob­lems at the $75 mil­lion Bagh­dad Po­lice Col­lege. Mr. Bowen has crit­i­cized Par­sons, which uses lo­cal Iraqi con­trac­tors, on other projects, in­clud­ing pri­mary health care build­ings.

The com­pany has cited the vi­o­lent en­vi­ron­ment as part of the prob­lem. A Pen­tagon spokesman said the com­pany made all re­pairs by an Oct. 6 tar­get at no gov­ern­ment cost.

There are two key money amounts de­voted to re­con­struc­tion: One is $37 bil­lion in cash the U.N. turned over to Iraq in 2003. The sec­ond is $36 bil­lion ap­pro­pri­ated by Congress, $20 bil­lion of which was the Iraq Re­lief and Re­con­struc­tion Fund. The re­main­ing $16 bil­lion is evenly di­vided for build­ing the Iraqi se­cu­rity forces and for var­i­ous mil­i­tary projects, some con­trolled by U.S. com­man­ders.

In late Septem­ber, Iraq re­builders re­ceived some praise from Mr. Bowen. He made one of his pe­ri­odic ap­pear­ances be­fore the House Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee, where Chair­man Thomas M. Davis III, Vir­ginia Repub­li­can, said there was some good news out of the war-wrecked coun­try.

“You said ac­cu­rately in your open­ing state­ment that not ev­ery­thing is wrong in Iraq, and that’s true,” Mr. Bowen re­sponded. “A fair read­ing of our full re­port demon­stra­bly un­der­scores that fact. In­deed, 70 per­cent of the projects we’ve vis­ited and 80 per­cent of the money al­lo­cated to them in­di­cate that those projects, from a con­struc­tion per­spec­tive, have met what the con­tract an­tic­i­pated.”

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