- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

President Bush’s Iraq strategy is on track for developing the security forces. If, however, Iraq is the “central front in our war on terror,” a broader segment of the U.S. government must become involved before we can downsize our forces and expect Iraq to survive as a republic.

Last week, I was in Iraq to speak with U.S. and Iraqi officials to assess our progress and ascertain what’s required to realize the president’s goals. American officials told me leaving Iraq prematurely could result in an Islamic caliphate in western Iraq, more sectarian fighting, a totally autonomous Kurdistan and the likelihood neighboring countries would use Hezbollah-like puppets to Lebanonize Iraq. Our presence steadies the throttle of this newly born republic.

One potential danger of our making could be creation of a strong Iraqi military. An Iraq with a strong military but weak central government would be ripe for coups vis-a-vis Pakistan’s Gen. Pervez Musharraf. A number of senior military officers expressed the wish that a broader U.S. government representation join the bolstering of Iraq’s federal bureaucracy.

I saw mostly U.S. soldiers at Iraqi ministries and heard primarily from military officers overseeing traditional civilian bureaucracies. U.S. government civilians were at the embassy but only one each at the Iraqi interior and defense ministries.

Our military has led because Iraq is dangerous and soldiers can be ordered to the front lines but civilians shy from combat.

We must, however, build government bureaucracies prepared to guide Iraq’s future. Effective government will keep Iraqis reasonably satisfied even if their politics continue to be “like a child’s playground” according to one official.

The imbalance between our military and civilian efforts is troubling. The Pentagon is working double-time with security forces fighting the insurgency while simultaneously creating a viable military from remnants of Saddam Hussein’s former army. According to the defense minister, more than 100 Iraqi battalions are credibly engaged in current operations.

Our objective is to make Iraqi forces better than the terrorists they fight. Iraqis have already assumed control of considerable battle space and are taking casualties as they stand their ground. While our advisers and units are ready to lead or support each fight, we must at the same time guarantee Iraq’s security against threats from Syria and Iran.

Both the Iraqi military and government suffer from cultural challenges. Corruption is widespread. An American commander told me Iraqi leaders are often selected by nepotism and some Iraqi commanders expect a cut from any contract because “that’s how things have been done in the past.” A senior Iraqi commander was caught scalping $50,000 off a contract.

American military mentors are trying to guide their counterparts toward a different set of professional ethics. We also are helping them select leaders based on competence and loyalty and creating appropriate administrative systems such as those for pay and logistics.

The civilian bureaucracies have the same ethical and technical challenges but less American supervision. One commander used the Ministry of Oil, Iraq’s chief money-making commodity, as an example that applies to the other ministries and services. Oil production is at the mercy of contracts. One contract was written so payment was based on how many repairs were made rather than the amount of oil delivered. Unsurprisingly, the system suffers frequent sabotage and slow delivery. Despite a corrupt system, Iraq earned $20 billion from oil this year.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) also suffers from corruption. Our military has renovated 3,315 primary schools. But permission to work school projects is linked to MOE approval. This, unofficially, requires a bribe. Fortunately for the children, Americans often circumvent MOE officials and deal directly with locals who enthusiastically endorse the work.

Many officials acknowledge police training lags military preparations by more than a year. But police training is not the military’s strong suit. If police are to be effective, more law enforcement experts are needed in Iraq to help. Others must be imbedded in local stations as the military is with the Iraqi army.

The American military has uniformed experts helping every Iraq government sector, but the 38 Iraqi ministries need “real experts,” a senior official said. Experts should be assigned for at least one-year tours instead of being switched every couple months as some civilian agencies are accustomed to doing. Otherwise their credibility is suspect and their effect minimized.

We have become our worst enemy on nurturing the Iraqi bureaucracy which, to its credit, has managed to function despite constant change in governments — four by January.

Despite the war and politics, the Iraqi people strongly support their political process and their military. Their patience isn’t eternal, however. They want security, electricity, clean water, good schools, health care and jobs.

The Iraqi military is on a fast track but it is debatable if the rest of the government can satisfy their other legitimate needs.

Attaining an effective Iraqi government that controls its military and provides its people reliable services will require the involvement of representatives of the entire U.S. government. Only then will we be able to bring our troops home without suffering potentially unacceptable outcomes on the horizon.

Robert L. Maginnis is a retired U.S. Army officer, a national security and foreign affairs analyst for broadcast networks and a senior systems analyst with BCP International Ltd. in Alexandria, Va. He visited Iraq in 2003 and early this month.

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