By recalling Ambassador L. Paul (Jerry) Bremer from Baghdad two days early on June 28, the Bush administration could claim it had met at least one element of its ambitious Iraqi reconstruction schedule.
The coalition was wrong on so many other countsthe number of Iraqis it would employ, the amount of power it could produce, the volume of oil it could export, how many troops it would need. Defeating Saddam Husseins demoralized army, already thoroughly trounced in the Gulf War and prevented from reloading by economic sanctions, proved relatively easy for the strongest military force in history.
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The aftermath has been much more problematic and costly. Since war was declared on March 19, 2003, 952 coalition forces have been killed, according to the Institute for Policy Studies. The total includes 836 U.S. military personnel. Of those, 694 died after President Bush declared an end to major hostilities. The civilian contractor community, which includes construction workers, missionaries and nongovernmental organization civilians, has also paid dearly. The death toll is estimated at 50 to 90, with 36 identified as Americans. The conflict has claimed 5,000 to 6,000 Iraqi soldiers and insurgents and another 10,000 to 11,000 Iraqi civilians.
Monetary costs are mounting, as well. The $18.4 billion devoted to reconstruction is just the tip of the iceberg. So far, Congress has approved $126.1 billion for the war, with another $25 billion in the legislative pipeline. Pulling reserve troops away from civilian jobs for extended tours will have negative, long-term effects on local economies. Social costs are painfully high without credible justification.
Bremers Air Force C-130 safely left Baghdad International Airport two days early, but some 130,000 U.S. troops are still on the ground in what has become a shooting gallery. Contractors also are concerned about whats in store over the next few months. The U.S. signs the checks, but Iraqs new government now has a big say.
Still, there may be hope. Despite a spate of coordinated car-bombings that killed well over 100 Iraqis throughout the country in late June, "things are not as bad as they seem, at least not for the contractors and materiel convoys," says Michael Battles, principal of Custer-Battles, a security contractor with several contracts in Iraq. "If we can ease through the next few weeks, things should begin to get better."
Frederic S. Berger, senior vice president of Washington, D.C.-based Berger Group, a joint venture partner in three sector contracts, says the administration should have learned from Afghanistan that diplomacy is better and less costly than war. "But were in it now, and were in it for the long haul," he says. "Theres no quick fix. This will take a 20-year investment."