Bush Critic Back in Baghdad to Lead Reconstruction

Three weeks ago, a tough critic of U.S. policy in Iraq landed in Baghdad, again. Longtime diplomat Timothy Carney went to Iraq soon after the 2003 invasion to run the Ministry of Industry and Minerals.

After just two months, Carney left — and issued scathing critiques of mistaken policies he said the Bush administration was pursuing.

Now, Carney is back in Iraq after being chosen by the Bush administration to coordinate reconstruction efforts — both U.S. and Iraqi projects.

Melissa Block talks with Carney, the coordinator for economic transition in Iraq.

Carney Finds New Role: Reconstructing Iraq

The Sharq Dijlah Water Treatment Plant in Baghdad. Credit: DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images. i i

hide captionIraqi General Manager Saad Salman of the Sharq Dijlah Water Treatment Plant in Baghdad during a tour of the facility with members of USAID in July 2006. USAID is one of the agencies diplomat Tim Carney now oversees in his new position as America's economic coordinator in Iraq.

David Furst/AFP/Getty Images
The Sharq Dijlah Water Treatment Plant in Baghdad. Credit: DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images.

Iraqi General Manager Saad Salman of the Sharq Dijlah Water Treatment Plant in Baghdad during a tour of the facility with members of USAID in July 2006. USAID is one of the agencies diplomat Tim Carney now oversees in his new position as America's economic coordinator in Iraq.

David Furst/AFP/Getty Images

Diplomat Tim Carney left Iraq three years ago — angry and outspoken about United States policy there. Now the administration has asked him to return as the economic coordinator.

It's a surprise invitation for an official who has said that the U.S. was not listening to Iraqis after the invasion, and formulating policy in isolation from the people it affected.

Carney is a veteran diplomat; over the last three decades, he has served in Cambodia, Haiti and Sudan, among other posts. In his return Baghdad news conference, he stood by his earlier criticism of administration policy in Iraq.

"In 2003, the coalition, notably the United States, failed to invite Iraqis into our councils," Carney said. "And that failure is what has led to the situation in which the country finds itself today."

It's a situation where U.S. federal oversight agencies say billions of dollars in aid was wasted. But Carney says the situation is improving.

"The big difference now is that Iraqis are inviting us into their councils to try to help use our resources to actually get things done," Carney said.

As economic coordinator, Carney will juggle a dizzying, and often overlapping, list of U.S. funding organizations, including USAID, the U.S. Treasury, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and others.

But with American reconstruction money drying up, Carney's biggest job will be to help Iraqis spend their own money, primarily from oil revenues.

Despite the deteriorating state of the country's electricity system, road networks and other public services, the ministries have managed to spend as little as 15 percent of their budgets.

The reasons are numerous, including problems finding companies to work under dangerous conditions, a lack of skilled contracting officers and U.S. anti-corruption programs that have intimidated bureaucrats.

"This is still a relatively new government. This government needs to demonstrate convincingly to the Iraqi people that they are governing for the benefit of all Iraqis," Carney said.

In part, Carney will rely on the State Department's "provincial reconstruction teams," known as PRTs.

The PRT program was launched a year ago to help the Iraqi government function better. There are 10 branch offices around the country.

Because of security concerns, the Baghdad PRT is a well-guarded office inside the heavily fortified Green Zone. If getting into the office is difficult, getting out to meet the Iraqi officials they want to help is even more so.

Each time he wants to leave, Deputy Director Bob Ruck has to organize an elaborate security convoy.

"We're trying to teach governance right now two hours at a time," Ruck said. "You get in a convoy, you drive down there, you meet with them, you leave; it's frustrating."

Ruck wants to place staff full time in key government offices. But security is an issue standing in the way of staff integration.

The program has also been criticized for not having people with the right backgrounds on staff. Baghdad PRT Director Joe Gregoire admits the State Department has had trouble hiring skilled people to work on PRTs.

"The problems is finding people who are very specific to certain subject matters," Gregoire said. "[Like] real business development [people], as you would expect from people who might be working for the Department of Commerce."

President Bush proposed last month doubling the number of teams, saying such civilians are now central to American efforts.

But just filling the jobs of the original PRTs is a challenge. U.S. officials say expanding them will take until the end of the year, at least. By then officials hope the risks will not be as great as they are now.

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