- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2003

BAGHDAD — Long lines of black cable were being rolled out in the presidential compound yesterday and new black phones were ringing — two signs that the arrival of L. Paul Bremer as the chief civilian administrator was making an overdue difference to coalition officials charged with rebuilding Iraq.

“Instead of scrambling and doing things at the last moment, we can now start putting in appropriate assets to get things done,” said Lt. Col. Jennifer Cassidy, the chief public affairs officer. “We now actually have an organization.”

Agitated officials of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA)have been pacing the marble-floor corridors of this vast former haunt of Saddam Hussein waiting for the U.S. military to provide vitally needed resources.

Until now, telephones and computers have been inadequate or unavailable and rides to crucial meetings with Iraqis often have been canceled for lack of military escort vehicles or military police, ORHA officials say.

Maj. Larry Miller, the Marine in charge of setting up the escorts, told The Washington Times yesterday that he was able to get ORHA officials to about 65 percent of their scheduled meetings last week. Some officials said they doubted the percentage was that high.

Another official said only 13 Humvee armored vehicles had been available to accommodate 30 to 40 daily requests for transport or protection. Officials wishing to leave the compound must submit requests by 5 p.m. the previous day, the officer said.

One official, desperate to get to a meeting to which he had invited Iraqis from all over the country, chose to sneak out of the compound and hitch a ride.

“I was told: ‘Sir, sorry, you are low on our list of priorities,’” said the official, who spoke on the condition he not be named. “They just don’t get it: The civilians are the show in Iraq now. At least, they should be.”

Maj. Miller said a series of meetings had been held to resolve complaints. Documents made available to The Times show several internal memos have circulated about the lack of transportation facilities and security-related restrictions on the officials’ movements.

“We recognize we need protection at times, but the army overestimates the risk. We are men needing to do a job and we often feel more like prisoners,” said one official.

Maj. Miller said he hopes to appropriate a larger number of Humvees and military police as new supplies and men arrive.

A lack of adequate communications — including sporadic Internet access on the few machines available — has made the job even more difficult. Officials say they sometimes have been unable to access their e-mail for more than 48 hours, incidentally worrying their loved ones back home.

The long snakes of black cable being laid in the palace will address the Internet bottleneck. More than three weeks after ORHA’s arrival in Baghdad, the U.S. company Raytheon has begun setting up an Internet and communications package to replace a more primitive military system.

ORHA, meanwhile, has prepared a three-page document advising its officials on more effective ways to get their message to news outlets.

Until the new phones arrived this week and were linked to U.S. numbers, ORHA spokesmen — like most journalists here — had been reduced to going into the street with cheap satellite phones to answer queries on such basic matters as the timing of press conferences.

Several ORHA officials declined to blame the military, saying the problems were an inevitable part of the changeover from war-fighting to peace-making.

Others argued that it would have cost “less than one of our bombs” to provide ORHA with satellite dishes, adequate numbers of laptop computers, and armored vehicles and staff.

“Things are improving,” said Col. Cassidy. “I can only quote [Defense Secretary Donald H.] Rumsfeld: ‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint.’”

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