U.S.-funded build­ing boom in Iraq at­tracts scant at­ten­tion back home

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Rowan Scar­bor­ough

When and if the smoke ever clears in Iraq, Pen­tagon of­fi­cials say the world fi­nally will see a mi­nor mir­a­cle.

“Most Amer­i­cans don’t un­der­stand some­thing equiv­a­lent to the Mar­shall Plan has been ac­com­plished in Iraq,” said Dean G. Popps, prin­ci­pal as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of the Army for ac­qui­si­tions, lo­gis­tics and tech­nol­ogy.

The Army is the pro­gram man­ager for $20 bil­lion in U.S. tax- payer money that flowed to Iraq af­ter the 2003 in­va­sion to spur a build­ing boom of more than 4,000 projects.

Amid con­stant deadly threats from blood­thirsty in­sur­gents, and with­out a vi­able Iraqi private con­tract­ing sec­tor, the Army Corps of En­gi­neers has su­per­vised the con­struc­tion of elec­tric grids, health care cen­ters, schools, wa­ter and sewage treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties, po­lice sta­tions, acad­e­mies and border posts.

Not count­ing the de­te­ri­o­rat­ing se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion, no facet of the Iraq war has re­ceived more neg­a­tive press than the U.S.- and Iraqi­fi­nanced re­con­struc­tion. The Wash­ing­ton Times, along with

ap­proved by a weak­ened Le­banese gov­ern­ment.

“We can add this to the list of Syr­ian killings of anti-Syr­i­ans in Le­banon,” said David Schenker of the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy. Mr. Ge­mayel was the fifth anti-Syr­ian fig­ure killed in the past two years.

“There is ob­vi­ously a con­cern that a U.N. in­ves­ti­ga­tion would be so thor­ough and com­pre­hen­sive it will get to the bot­tom of who killed Hariri and the other mur­ders in Le­banon, and ob­vi­ously there are some peo­ple very ner­vous about that,” Mr. Schenker said.

Syr­ian of­fi­cials de­nied any in­volve­ment in the latest as­sas­sina- tion, which rat­tled a Le­banese gov­ern­ment al­ready bat­tered by a wave of Cabi­net res­ig­na­tions and the threat of street demon­stra­tions by Hezbol­lah.

“Syria had noth­ing to do with this,” said Syria’s U.N. Am­bas­sador Bashar Ja’afari.

But Amal Mu­dal­lali, for­eign af­fairs ad­viser to the head of Le­banon’s largest par­lia­men­tary fac­tion, said Mr. Ge­mayal’s killing had been care­fully planned.

“The as­sas­si­na­tion is aimed at stop­ping the in­ter­na­tional tri­bunal,” she said. “It is the sec­ond time they have killed a Le­banese politi­cian when the U.N. Coun­cil was meet­ing on Hariri — it is not a co­in­ci­dence.

“This is a strug­gle for the fu­ture of Le­banon and it is be­ing writ­ten to­day and the Le­banese peo­ple are writ­ing it with their blood,” she said.

Fol­low­ing the walk­out of five Hezbol­lah and one Chris­tian min­is­ter on Nov. 11, the death of Mr. Ge­mayal leaves the anti-Syr­ian Cabi­net with just one mem­ber more than the min­i­mum to main­tain a con­sti­tu­tional quo­rum.

“In Le­banon you are get­ting very close to bring­ing this gov­ern­ment down,” said Mr. Schenker. “Only two more peo­ple out of 17 have to die.”

In broader terms, an­a­lysts saw the killing as part of a con­certed ef­fort by Iran and Syria to flex their mus­cles just as pres­sure is mount­ing in Wash­ing­ton for Pres­i­dent Bush to seek their help in sta­bi­liz­ing Iraq.

Syria on Nov. 21 for­mally es­tab­lished diplo­matic re­la­tions with Bagh­dad for the first time in 20 years, while Iraqi Pres­i­dent Jalal Tal­a­bani was ex­pected to travel to Tehran for talks as early as the Nov. 25-26 week­end. Syria may also be rep­re­sented at that meet­ing.

“Iran is pro­ject­ing its power in the re­gion and send­ing a mes­sage to the U.S.,” said Robert Rabil, di­rec­tor of grad­u­ate stud­ies at the po­lit­i­cal science de­part­ment at Florida At­lantic Univer­sity.

“It is an as­ser­tion of Shi’ite pol­i­tics, and the Is­lamists, led by Iran, are us­ing Syria to project their power in the re­gion. So now Iran has a say in the Arab-Is­raeli con­flict, and in Iraq now they have a strong say.”

Mr. Bush, in Honolulu on his way home from an Asian sum­mit, stopped short of specif­i­cally blam­ing any­one for the as­sas­si­na­tion but pledged to de­fend Le­banon’s democ­racy “against at­tempts by Syria, Iran and al­lies to fo­ment in­sta­bil­ity and vi­o­lence in that im­por­tant coun­try.”

Un­der­sec­re­tary of State R. Ni­cholas Burns said Wash­ing­ton viewed the mur­der as “an act of ter­ror­ism. We also view it as an act of in­tim­i­da­tion.”

Hezbol­lah and its sup­port­ers quit Le­banon’s Cabi­net on Nov. 11 af­ter their de­mands for a larger role in the gov­ern­ment were re­jected. Hezbol­lah’s leader, Sheik Has­san Nas­ral­lah, has vowed to take the group’s cause to the streets and bring down the gov­ern­ment.

Mr. Gins­berg said it would be a fal­lacy to think that Sheik Nas­ral­lah was act­ing for strictly do­mes­tic rea­sons.

“He is a pawn of Iran,” Mr. Gins­berg said. “It is like watch­ing a chess player — Iran — be­gin play­ing some very good matches. We had bet­ter stop play­ing check­ers or we are go­ing to wind up hand­ing the Mid­dle East over to our ad­ver­saries.”


Iraqi guards of honor carry flags dur­ing the funeral cer­e­mony of Ali al-Athab, mem­ber of the po­lit­i­cal bureau of the Supreme Coun­cil for the Is­lamic Revo­lu­tion in Iraq, in Na­jaf, 100 miles south of Bagh­dad, on Nov. 19. Ali alAthab, a se­nior of­fi­cial with the largest Shi’ite po­lit­i­cal group, was gunned down in Bagh­dad on Nov. 18.

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