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January 15, 2007
Rebuilding Teams Bolstered Under The Bush Plan

The Bush surge has more to it than just the deployment of 20,000 more troops for Baghdad and Anbar. One of the less-debated aspects of the new strategy is a higher investment in money and personnel for the rebuilding effort in Iraq. The number of teams will double and go further out into the Iraqi communities that they will attempt to revive:

As part of its latest plan to stabilize Iraq, the United States intends to more than double the number of regional reconstruction teams and to add nearly 400 specialists for existing and new teams, in fields from politics and the rule of law to agribusiness and veterinary care, according to an official outline of the plan.

The document calls for the measures to be taken swiftly, in three phases, with waves of new teams and personnel expected to be put in place in March, June and September. The teams are to carry out rebuilding and governance projects from small offices all over Iraq. ...

While the plan does call for the creation of about a dozen new reconstruction teams around Iraq, most of the new personnel will be added to existing teams, the plan indicates. While 400 may sound like a small number compared with the plan to increase the number of troops by more than 20,000, the existing 10 reconstruction teams have, at most, a total of about 100 civilian specialists, and recruiting that many has been difficult, officials say.

Without doubt, the slow pace of reconstruction has fed the security problem, primarily in Baghdad. The Iraqis expected the Americans to solve most of their infrastructure problems overnight -- and so did some Americans. The steady but slow progress in repairing power and water systems, complicated by insurgent attacks, have fed a strange sort of conspiracy theory among the Iraqis that the US wants them mired in poverty and chaos. After all, we terminated Saddam's unbeatable regime in three weeks -- and that meant we could do anything we wanted.

The men and women we have on the ground have done their best in difficult circumstances, but we missed some easy opportunities early in the post-invasion period. The Coalition insisted on centralizing the rebuilding efforts rather than put cash in the hands of local commanders who could make quick decisions on how to use it for smaller-scale projects. That method had a lot of success in employing Iraqis and keeping them too busy to fall into insurgencies or just disappointment and bitterness, and actually got some projects completed. Instead, the resources got shifted to centralized planners for big projects that took a long time to develop, and the Iraqis grew impatient with our bureaucratic processes.

If the Bush administration wants this aspect of the surge to succeed, he has to scale back to the local projects that had initial success in Iraq. This appears to be the thrust of the plan now, to move teams out into the field to manage rebuilding efforts from a closer perspective. Recruitment for these positions has been difficult in the past, as the State Department has tried to persuade civilians to relocate to Iraq with only sporadic success. The military, perhaps the Corps of Engineers and Seabees, would be better solutions, but the military has other priorities at the moment -- and the military has already been working on some of these projects during the entire post-invasion period.

We need to make sure that we have all potential resources committed to this phase of the new strategy. Employed Iraqis will not join insurgencies, and improvements in the standard of living will bolster confidence in the elected government and the democratic processes put in place after Saddam's fall. If we cannot turn on the power and get clean water into the houses of ordinary Iraqis, they may start getting nostalgic for strongmen who could get the trains to run on time. Some of them already are.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 15, 2007 6:11 AM

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