Friday, January 20, 2006

Iraq: The Big News and the Big News

The big news out of Iraq that you probably have heard is that a coalition of Shiite parties came close to winning a majority of seats in last month's parliamentary voting. This means that the Shiites will remain the dominant force in the new Iraqi government, but will still need to form a coalition with the Kurds, who came in second, and the Sunnis, who finished a distant third.

The big news out of Iraq that probably have not heard is that the Bush administration is abandoning its once vaunted "Marshall Plan" for rebuilding the war-torn country once the $18.6 billion approved by Congress in 2003 is spent, probably by the end of the year.

What happened?

The Los Angeles Times reports that U.S. officials are now promoting a "tough love" vision of reconstruction that puts the burden on the Iraqi people.

An excerpt:

"The world is a competitive place," Tom Delare, economics counselor at the U.S. Embassy, said this month during a news briefing. "You have to convince the investor that it is worth his while to put his money in your community."

An embassy spokeswoman later said that the Bush administration was not abandoning the Iraqi reconstruction effort. It "remains committed to helping build Iraq and continues to assess needs on the ground," she said. No decisions on future funding requests have been made, she said.

But embassy and reconstruction officials outlined a program of private investment and fiscal belt-tightening by the new Iraqi government as the long-term solution to the country's woes, even if that causes short-term suffering for Iraq's people.

"No pain, no gain," Andy Wylegala, whose job at the embassy is to help Americans do business in Iraq, said at the same briefing. "It's a very difficult procedure to pass through. But when I look from my side, I see it as a long-term, very favorable development."

After touring Baghdad early this month, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) questioned the new direction.

"I think we're fooling ourselves if we think we can simply just pass this on to the Iraqi people immediately or to the international community," Reed said. "We've got to continue our efforts . . . That requires money."

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