- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2003

BAGHDAD — The looting and violence that have angered Iraqis and troubled U.S. military commanders is impeding the restoration of vital utilities and infrastructure, say managers coping with tattered ministries and municipal departments.

At a meeting with U.S. officials yesterday, a dozen department managers warned that life in Baghdad cannot return to normal until children go back to school, water and power are reliably available, and people can receive phone calls.

The ferociousness of the looting and arson has shocked the Iraqi people. It has disrupted daily routines that might have been spared by careful coalition bombing and has forced Iraqis to face questions about their own character.

“I formally declare there is some kind of coup in the thinking of the Iraqi citizen,” said an assistant mayor of Baghdad, who gave his name only as Mr. Sial. “They taste freedom and they think they can do whatever they want, without laws.”

U.S. officials are trying to help the Iraqi civil servants get their departments up and running.

“Security is issue number one, number two and number three here,” said Gen. Carl Strock, the engineer overseeing the restoration of municipal services for Baghdad. “Without that, you cannot pick up the garbage or fix the electricity, and when you do, someone will come and break it.”

The dozen managers assembled yesterday by the Pentagon’s Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) painted a bleak picture of urban life in Baghdad.

Water cannot be pumped without electricity, which will not be repaired until the transmission lines can be restored, the utilities teams say. That likely will be in June.

Reliable fuel deliveries could take another three weeks, meaning another month of excruciating traffic jams on Baghdad’s streets and exorbitant black-market fuel prices.

Widespread unexploded ordnance — both Iraqi and U.S. — is vexing the civil-defense department. The fire department does not have sufficient water pressure for its hoses.

Female teachers are afraid to report to class, said a member of the teachers union, and parents are keeping their daughters home after reports of gangs abducting young women.

The director of Baghdad’s education office acknowledged the problems, saying only 65 percent of Baghdad’s 5.5 million students are attending classes regularly. He added, incredulously, that mosques have begun recruiting security men for public schools.

L. Paul Bremer, the newly appointed head of ORHA, insisted at his first news conference yesterday that “people here are going about their business” despite the problems. “This is not a country in anarchy,” he said.

In Washington, congressional concern over the slow pace of reconstruction is mounting despite such assurances.

“Common sense tells me that we should have anticipated the need for forces capable of providing security in urban areas,” House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, said at a hearing yesterday.

“We should certainly have been able to deploy such forces by now,” he said.

Mr. Hyde said he intended to ask that the General Accounting Office monitor the reconstruction effort “in every detail,” particularly efforts to provide security and interim relief to the people of Iraq, and the rebuilding of its economy and political system.

Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat, announced a bill to provide $1 million a year for two years to support a NATO peacekeeping role in Iraq.

In Baghdad, ORHA officials said they will convene the managers of various utilities every week until the worst of the problems in Baghdad are resolved. Yesterday’s three-hour meeting, the first, frequently lapsed into recriminations.

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