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Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Iraq overview

The more I read about Iraq the more difficult it is to be even the slightest bit optimistic. This post is a kind of summary about where things have got too and where things are going. Lets start with the official position

The official US Embasy site, the successor to the old CPA website is I guess where you'd expect to find whatever good news there is. There are a number of speeches, all talking about committment to restoring democracy. There is a claim of 200 000 members of the Iraq security forces and there is a link to the US Aid website which has a report (5mb Download) on the progress of the first year.

The report is pretty light on statistics and is in many ways almost entirely anecdotal. It does give some figures though. Power generation is said to have exceeded pre-war levels by October 2003 and was expected to reach 50% higher by summer 2004 (about now). 'Millions' of children have been vaccinated. I've put millions in quotes only because there's no actual figure so it could be 1 million, 2 millions or whatever. It's a lot though. Later on there's a figure for how many vaccine doses have been distributed, but not how many have actually been given.

The port at Umm Quasr has been dredged, although I'd imagine that was an essential military task as well as an important humanitarian one. (Umm Quasr is Iraqs only major port on the Gulf). Other achievements include 45 million dollars of small grants to get businesses restarted and 700 councils established. There's a claim that 80% of Iraqi's either directly or indirectly have been involved in local government. I wonder though just what constitutes 'indirect' involvement - is this as little as there being a councillor assigned to wherever it is I live?

$150m has been spent on health, apparently 60 times the pre-war level (which makes the pre-war spend $3m. Then there's education, where USAid has trained 32000 teachers and repaired 2700 schools. Plus there's the distribution of 8 million textbooks.

There have also been efforts to replenish the marshlands and to investigate the mass graves.

That is all things considered a pretty impressive list. I do wonder about what exactly some of the things mean. What constitutes 'training' a teacher. A one day intensive course? A one month course? A one hour talk reminding them not to praise Baathists in class anymore? It's not clear.

Likewise the vaccinations, have they been administered or distributed? One would represent a major achievement, the other over full hospital warehouses and waste. Iraq has a population of 24 million, of which 40% are below the age of 14 so there are certainly millions of children who need vaccinations. This also makes the current health spend about $6 per person.

Then there's the electricity thing. The pre-war level was 4400 MW. On October 6 production did indeed hit 4518 MWH according to CPA figures. However as of May 18 2004 the seven day moving average hadn't surpassed 4300 and was sitting at around 4000, well short of the July 1st target of 6000 MWH and still behind pre-war levels. The report does say that in the past Baghdad was guaranteed power at the expense of outlying provinces, something the coalition says has now changed with most areas having more hours and Baghdad less.

This story in the Guardian suggests what the problem is - insurgents keep blowing up parts of the power supplies and foreign contractors have pulled out in fear.

Turning to the other major claim I've listed - 200 000 members of the Iraqi security forces. A breakdown is given here . There are 70 000 police, 70 000 0r so guards and 3000 troops (I assume that numbers grown since March). This column by David Hackworth suggests some of the problems with the Iraqi army to date as does this one, the main point being this quote about the Iraqi armies first combat action

"By the end of the day, this 695-man battalion had eight wounded, 24 combat desertions, 104 mutineers, 78 AWOLs and 170 on leave."

It's that on leave figure you want to look at. There might be 200 000 of these guys, but they in no way compare man for man to US troops, or even US police.

On the political front the timetable is as follows

A meeting of 1000 notables will elect 80 officers to a national congress.
20 more officers will be appointed by the current government.
The congress will organise elections in January.

The date for the congress has been put back twice now and at the moment there's no resecheduled date been announced. That's probably by the by anyway, because the present levels of violence will make free and fair elections almost impossible in January. As these figures show the underlying level of violence (as measured in US fatalities) has remained about the same over the year and spikes during major offensives.

The level of violence against Iraqi civilians remains huge, over 1000 have been killed since Allawi took power. Indeed Allawi has reinstated the death penalty, closed down newspapers, thrown al Jazeera out of Iraq and taken a decidedly non-democratic approach to law and order.

In terms of ongoing violence Fallujah remains in guerilla hands, oddly sanctioned now as the Fallujah Brigade. Places like Nasaria and Najaf are battle fields, a recent curfew in Sadr city was ignored and in the South the British are not so much trying to fight the Mahdi army as reach some sort of arrangement whereby they'll behave themselves and stop taking over police stations. The north remains firmly under the control of the Kurds, which probably bodes badly for the large Arab minority when elections come round. Juan Cole provides excellent summaries of the ongoing violence which moves location so rapidly it's hard to know which parts of Iraq aren't problem areas.

(It's worth noting that Juan is not, like me, some random blogger, but an expert on the Middle East who gave testimony to congressional hearings on Iraq)

So to bring this ramble to some sort of conclusion Iraq is very much a mess. Efforts to restore democracy and carry out aid work are being undermined by a security situation that has forced out foreign contractors, resulted in the de-facto loss of many parts of Iraq and is starting to resemble the free for all civil war that many feared pre-invasion.

I'm going to stop now, and I haven't even got to looking up pre and post war employment rates, GDP and oil output...

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