- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2008

Iraq has a problem. It has a surplus of oil money, but doesn’t know how to spend it on nation-wide reconstruction. America has a problem; it is financing reconstruction with a population increasingly impatient for the Iraqis to take over. How do we square this circle? The answer may be easier than it seems on the surface. Over the past five years, American commanders at the division and brigade level have skillfully used their Commanders’ Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds to implement very successful reconstruction projects. They have learned how to demand accountability, inspect for quality, and track funding flow. The Iraqis remain challenged in these areas.

Rather than starting from scratch to build Iraqi capability, a good interim fix would be to have the Iraqis write checks directly to the American divisions’ and brigades’ CERP accounts using oil surplus funds and have Americans manage the funds to start new projects. In doing so, they would team each American with an Iraqi counterpart who would look over the shoulder of the American partner in a learning capacity. The ultimate goal of this program would be to turn the whole operation over to the Iraqis, sector by sector, as they prove ready. The Americans would account to the Iraqi government for the money spent.

There are several good reasons why this will work today, while it might not have in previous years. First, as Iraqi forces increasingly take over combat missions, U.S. forces are freed up to provide security for key projects. Second, having Iraqis involved intimately at every level will decrease the perception that the Americans are doing everything; it would be particularly helpful if a sign was put up at every reconstruction project site that reads “Funded by the Government and People of Iraq.”

Corruption will not go away overnight, but it would give Americans time to work with the Iraqi government to weed out and replace the incompetent and indolent. There is a much better chance that as the Iraqis take over in each sector they will be ready to handle the job. As that happens, a big public relations deal should be made of each hand over. It is critically important that the traditional lack of trust between the Iraqi people and their government be remedied. If the population sees that its government can not only provide security and stability, but can provide goods and services, we will have our ticket out of Iraq. The alternative is building a program from scratch. We have seen how painful that was with the Iraqi security forces. It is far better to build on success. Some may say that a direct interim payment of Iraqi funds to the U.S. will seem humiliating, but if the Iraqis are seen to be involved in the process and are in a position to take over, whatever sting they feel should be temporary.

Even with good training we can’t expect generations of traditional graft to go away overnight, but we can plant seeds. Insurgencies are won when the people see that they have a better chance of improving their lot under the existing government than an insurgent group. The insurgent must sabotage government attempts to make things better while showing alternatives to the government’s approach to providing social services and employment. The Sunni insurgency never grasped this. They got the sabotage part right, but never got around to social services.

The Shiite insurgents such as al Sadr offered social services, but they could not be caught openly undermining those in the government. In the early and mid stages of the insurgent period this was good enough because the government was offering precious little. That insurgent window has passed. It is time to take advantage of new opportunities.

This insurgency can be won on both the military and socio-economic fronts if we play the rest of the match intelligently and don’t do anything rash or foolish. A bad end to an insurgency, ends up with the guerrillas marching down the main street of the nation’s capital in triumph as the Chinese and North Vietnamese communists did in Beijing and Saigon respectively, and Castro did in Havana. A good end to an insurgency is not a victory parade; good ones usually end in a whimper. In 1960, a Malaysian clerk in the Interior Ministry ended that conflict when he noted in the daily record that the emergency had ended. I think that we can live with an end like that.

Gary Anderson has directed several war games concerning Iraqi governance for the Defense Department.

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