Security Is Linchpin to Iraq Progress

During a recent visit to Iraq, 10 members of a bipartisan delegation visited 30 students in the Women’s Secondary School in Kirkuk. Upon asking the students what they needed, we heard an answer we were not quite expecting — air conditioning. The commander accompanying us said that when they arrived in the area, the schoolgirls were asking for restrooms. From requesting a necessity to requesting a luxury — a sure sign of progress.   And we have much more to do, especially in these key areas:

1. Security: All other aspects of creating a democratic and peaceful Iraq depend on the security situation. For example, rebuilding

the oil or electric infrastructure is not possible if it is subsequently sabotaged. 

Maintaining security is, unfortunately, a burden that has continued to fall disproportionately on our men and women in uniform.  We have received help from the British and the Poles, and contributions from a number of allies including the Bulgarians and the Baltic states. We need to continue to seek forces from other allies. 

We need to train Iraqi police and create a new Iraqi Army. During my recent visit I heard the 82nd Airborne tell me about the creation of an Iraqi Civil Defense force that participates with our soldiers, in patrols and security details. We must work to get the Iraqis to assume the burden for security. It is in their interest as well as ours: The sooner we build strong security and police forces that have respect for the rule of law, the sooner we can bring our young men and women home. 

2. Transition of sovereignty: A new Iraq will likely be a federal nation, one that must empower local government, ethnic and religious groups, yet one that creates a greater and more powerful whole. But before that happens, we need to get an interim Iraqi government in place — one that respects human rights and guarantees basic freedoms. 

Ambassador Paul Bremer and President Bush’s administration have taken a methodical approach by seeking to build consensus around an Iraqi-drafted constitution. This appears to be a solid plan, but unfortunately one that neither the international community nor the Iraqis themselves found acceptable. The quicker the United States provides sovereignty to Iraqis and the quicker our Coalition Provisional Authority evolves into a U.S. Embassy and AID Mission, the better.

3. Economic reconstruction: Iraqis want and need the same things that Americans do — basic infrastructure, such as electricity and clean water. They also want quality education, jobs and economic opportunity.

The U.S. and the administration’s policy are on the right track. In two supplemental bills, Congress has provided some $21 billion for this purpose. We have succeeded in getting the petroleum production back up to prewar levels. But during a visit to the Al Dhoura power plant in Baghdad, we learned that a facility that should produce 500 megawatts can barely produce 100 megawatts. We also need to be concerned about improperly treated solid waste that threatens drinking water, and water-borne illnesses that continue to plague Iraq’s population. Correcting these problems will entail costly, long-term investments, but they are investments that will directly contribute to development, peace and stability.

4. Management and oversight: Much has been written about mistakes made, how the war combat operations were brilliant, but not enough was done to plan for the peace. Much of the criticism is warranted. One of the areas that the administration did not do well was to involve or consult with Congress. But through the emergency supplemental for defense and Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction, the House and Senate Appropriations committees took action to dramatically improve management and oversight. After oversight hearings with Ambassador Bremer, Gen. John Abizaid, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios, we drafted a bill including language to reinforce the use of full and open competition for reconstruction contracts. We created an inspector general for the CPA to investigate allegations of waste, fraud and abuse. The Congress required submission and updates of a financial plan, insisted on prior Congressional notification of spending and removed $1.7 billion for projects with poor justification or that were delayed or done by other institutions such as the World Bank.

The administration needs to do a better job of keeping Congress informed. And the past eight months have shown that Congress will carry out its duty by asserting itself to ensure that proper oversight is being exerted.

Even thought the financial cost of our efforts in Iraq has been great, they are small compared to the costs of failure and the prospect of a third war in Iraq. Our continued assistance must be considered an investment — an investment in security both in the region and on American soil — and a responsibility. We must not be faced, 20 years in the future, with the knowledge that we removed a tyrant only to leave vacuums into which a cousin in tyranny would return.

Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) is chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, export financing and related programs.