Fixing a mistake in Iraq

Editorial

Los Angeles Times

November 14, 2005

THE IRAQI GOVERNMENT THIS month belatedly got around to reversing one of the worst errors of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran the country after the invasion: the disbanding of the Iraqi army. Some officers had been called back into service earlier, but the transitional government issued a

near-blanket invitation to officers up to the rank of major to apply for reinstatement.

The abolition of the army meant widespread unemployment for tens of thousands of men. Some became criminals to get money to feed their families; some supported or became insurgents. Iraqi officials promise to thoroughly screen former officers to ensure that insurgents don't infiltrate the ranks, and the invitation should eventually increase the number of battalions ready to fight.

The Bush administration says U.S. troops will not be withdrawn in substantial numbers until Iraqi soldiers can replace them, a process that is moving slowly and has resulted in contradictory claims over how many fighters are trained. Getting experienced troops back in uniform and retrained should allow a big drawdown of American forces.

More than 2,000 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq, and the lack of security is taking a toll on rebuilding the country. The most recent report of the U.S. special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction claims there has been progress here and there — nice to know, considering that Congress has appropriated nearly $30 billion for rebuilding — but notes that more than 25% of the reconstruction money has instead been spent on security, well above what Washington planned in its rosy prewar scenarios. The diversion of funds to protecting contractors has caused a "reconstruction gap" between projects once planned and those now financially viable.

Revenues from oil exports, which the administration once promoted as the economic engine to pay for Iraq's reconstruction, increased as oil prices did, but there's no guarantee that will last. The Iraqi Oil Ministry set a production target of 2.5 million barrels per day, but production is around 2.1 million barrels, and oil exports dropped between July and October.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip to Mosul and Baghdad last week was a reminder that despite the suicide bombings and daily attacks on U.S. and Iraqi security forces, the country's problems demand a political rather than a military solution. The Dec. 15 parliamentary elections will be part of that process, but to be effective, they will require that the minority Sunni Arabs participate as fully as the Kurds and Shiites. That's a message Rice and other diplomats need to keep repeating as election day draws closer.