TCS Daily

The Builders of Iraq

By Charles Matthew Rousseaux - May 28, 2004 12:00 AM

"All are architects of Fate,/Working in these walls of Time;/Some with massive deeds and great,/Some with ornaments of rhyme. Nothing useless is, or low;/Each thing in its place is best;/And what seems but idle show/Strengthens and supports the rest."

So wrote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem, "The Builders." It also describes what is happening in Iraq, where Coalition soldiers, Iraqi citizens and free civilians are attempting to construct a social order against former Saddam loyalists and terrorists. The builders are beating the bulldozer, but it's become a close run thing, and is likely to become even more perilous through the handover and the Iraqi government's first months of existence.

President Bush said, "beyond the violence, a civil society is emerging," in his speech at the Army War College on Tuesday night. While it could still fall to pieces, that does appear to be happening, a piece at a time.

Several structures of self-government have been established. Control of thirteen separate government ministries has been transferred to Iraqis, the most recent of which was the Ministry of Transportation. Other ministries under direct Iraqi control include the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education.

Notwithstanding an awful start last year, when Coalition commanders cancelled elections shortly after announcing them, Iraqis have gained experience in self-government. President Bush noted that, "many of Iraq's cities and towns have elected town councils or city governments." Under the oversight of Paul Bremer, a group of local government representatives, including members of the Baghdad City Council, elected engineer Mahmood al Tamimi as city mayor last month.

The Baghdad City Council, largely a mix of previously apolitical technocrats, ranging from sheiks to secularists and from lawyers to engineers, has become a power in its own right. Council members were selected by their neighbors almost a year ago, and after first focusing on their neighborhoods, have since started to speak out on national issues. A February Washington Post profile of the group said, "They are the closest thing Iraq has to a democratically elected representative body with real clout." For instance, council member Ali Hadary pushed hard for the reassembly of classrooms, and received almost $500,000 to repair 20 schools in his area.

The entire Iraqi educational establishment is being rebuilt. Mr. Bush said, "Under the direction of Dr. Ala'din al-Alwan, the Ministry [of Education] has trained more than 30,000 teachers and supervisors for the schools of a new Iraq." According to the White House, over a third of the 15,000 teachers fired by Saddam have been rehired and more than 5.5 million Iraqi students are back at school. Earlier this month, the World Bank issued a $40 million grant to the Ministry of Education.

Schools aren't the only things going up. Spending on reconstruction is finally surging, according to retired admiral David Nash, who is overseeing construction. Earlier this week he said at a briefing, "Things are going very well." $75 million in new construction being set up each week. Over the last two months, $4 billion has been put towards specific projects. That is twice the amount two months ago, and the pace is still increasing. Over 8,000 Iraqis hammer away at those projects each day, bringing electricity and water to their fellow citizens. According to the Los Angeles Times, soldiers in Kut are even hiring away suspected followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to work on reassembling an amusement park.

Americans continue to apply in drove for jobs in Iraq due to the high salaries offered by contractors. According to a recent story in The Washington Post, the Halliburton subsidiary KBR has thousands of resumes on file and processes between 400 and 500 workers each week. Even Iraq's primary oil producer is finally pumping crude at pre-war levels. There's been such success in the area that Sen. Patrick Leahy has been reduced to grumbling in a statement, "Security is quickly becoming the X-factor that is impeding and complicating the reconstruction effort." If Mr. Nash is right, the seemingly intractable problem of broken infrastructure is slowly transforming from an X-factor to a zzzzz factor -- something that people can fall asleep thinking about.

If buildings continue to go up and basic services continue to tur 2000 n on, Iraqis may be less inclined to tear down the social structure. As Mr. Bush said at the War College, "Whenever people are given a choice in the matter, they prefer lives of freedom to lives of fear." Is he right? There's no easy answer -- although the argument resonates in heartbeats and history books.

The work of reconstruction has been slapdash in places; in others it has been repeatedly wrecked by terrorists. But superficial disrepair is not in itself cause for despair. The true question is the soundness of the foundation. Will the Iraqi social mortar be sufficient to hold against the mortars and RPGs of insurgents and their own religious and racial divides, to say nothing of the wrecking ball of Islamo-fascism? It's too early to tell. But it might hold -- and the fractured fence of U.S. supported, U.N. supervised Iraqi sovereignty could become a bulwark.

There's yet hope that civil order will continue to be established on civic action, on the hundreds of civilizing actions chosen by Iraqis each day. As Longfellow finished his poem,

"Build today, then, strong and sure,/With a firm and ample base;/And ascending and secure/Shall tomorrow find its place./Thus alone can we attain/To those turrets, where the eye/Sees the world as one vast plain,/And one boundless reach of sky."

Charles Rousseaux is an editorial writer for The Washington Times and a frequent contributor to TCS. E-mail:


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