America is planning a bold effort to rebuild Iraq almost on its own and have the structure of a post-Saddam society in place within a year.
According to 100 pages of confidential Bush administration documents obtained by The Wall Street Journal, nearly all initial contracts for reconstruction would go to US firms. American specialists and "shadow ministers" would play a leading role in setting up new healthcare and education systems and remodelling Iraq's government and civil service.
The leaked plans, following disclosure of other proposals and blueprints in recent weeks, suggest much has not yet been finalised.
But the thrust is clear. Regardless of President Bush's aversion to nation building during the 2000 election campaign, Washington is about to embark on the most ambitious such exercise since it supervised the reintegration of Germany and Japan into the international system after the Second World War.
The first firm indications of what it has in mind will come in the supplemental budget request, which could reach $100bn (£63bn), the administration will submit to Congress to cover the cost of war and its immediate aftermath.
But the plans reported by the WSJ yesterday give a flavour. Just $50m has been earmarked for NGO humanitarian groups, compared with a first tranche of reconstruction contracts pencilled in for US companies, worth $1.5bn. Many of the companies involved have been substantial donors to the Republican Party. Washington's grand design threatens to complicate even further its strained relations with the UN, after the failure of the Security Council to agree a second resolution authorising war. There is bound to be fresh confusion surrounding the formal role the UN will play in forming a new Iraq – and who will pay for it.
At one level, the slant of the scheme towards American companies and direction is part of the battle to win over Iraqi public opinion, to prove, in the words of one analyst, that Washington "is putting its money where its mouth is". Having launched a war to destroy President Saddam's Iraq, America wants to claim credit for building a new nation. But the administration's approach appears to reflect its longstanding but deepening impatience towards multilateral institutions. Bureaucratic meanderings, America believes, have slowed redevelopment work in Afghanistan.
Even before it has been formally presented, the scheme is meeting scepticism verging on incredulity among traditional European allies and the UN. Much of the disbelief stems from the short timescale envisaged. A year after the end of hostilities, America wants to have the nearly 3,000 miles of main roads in Iraq repaired and fully open. According to their blueprint, by spring 2004 referral hospitals will be functioning in 21 Iraqi cities.
Most ambitious of all, perhaps, are the education goals: guaranteed schooling and school supplies for all of Iraq's 4.2 million children, and 25,000 schools functioning at "standard level of quality".
Mark Malloch-Brown, the outspoken head of the UN Development Programme, told the WSJ that "the idea all this is done in a year flies in the face of human history". Aid groups accused the Bush administration of painting a rosy picture to score public relations points and enable America to disengage more quickly.
Many diplomats believe in the end Washington will turn enthusiastically to multilateral bodies, given the likely resentment of many individual countries at being asked to pay up, when the reconstruction effort is being led by the United States, not the United Nations.
In the Azores on Sunday, Mr Bush left the door open, promising to seek new Security Council resolutions to encourage "broad participation" in rebuilding of the country. But in the current acrimonious climate, the prospects for such resolutions are unclear.
Bush's ambitions for Iraq
Health Hospitals functioning in 21 cities. Maternity care for everyone
Housing Renovation of nearly 20,000 houses
Schools 100 per cent of schools back in operation
Economic governance Central Bank and Ministry of Finance fully operative; legal framework "hospitable" to private enterprise
Major infrastructure Iraq's main port at Umm Qasr open; all main roads repaired; 10 generation plants rebuilt; all commercial air links restored
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