WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 (UPI) -- By a huge ironic coincidence, New York and Baghdad were facing similar predicaments last week: both were without electrical power. In New York, the cause was a massive blackout that cut a swathe through large sections of the Eastern Seaboard. In Baghdad, drastic power shortages have become a symbol of the U.S. occupation's problems in meeting its post-war commitments.
In New York, people slept in the streets Thursday night because, without air conditioning, their houses and apartments were unbearable. In Baghdad, Iraqis sleep on the rooftops every night: the 105-degree heat turns their stone homes into ovens.
In New York, the outage lasted some 30 hours before power was restored. Baghdad has had to cope with little or no electricity for five months, since the city's power plants were destroyed by U.S. air raids. New Yorkers took the inconvenience in their stride and no incidents were reported Thursday night. In Iraq, shortages of water and electrical power have sparked violent demonstrations in Baghdad and Basra.
So it's no surprise that Iraqis reacted to the news that Americans were experiencing the same hardship with what reports described as a gloating satisfaction.
Snide comments in the Arab media continued even over the weekend. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's remark on television that the United States was "a superpower with a Third World (power) grid" was widely quoted. In Dubai, a 47-year-old engineer told the Arab Times, a Gulf paper, "Now we understand why they (Americans) have been unable to get the electricity running in Baghdad."
The occupation authorities in Iraq blame sabotage, looting and other security considerations for the delay in restoring full power at least to the major cities. On Sunday, an explosion ripped through a pipeline supplying water to northern Baghdad. Water flooded the streets, and service was interrupted. As a result of increasing sabotage incidents, the authorities say, companies that have contracted to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure refuse to put their employees in harm's way.
The other inhibiting factor is soaring estimates of costs. Pentagon officials told a Senate committee recently that reconstruction operations -- with water and electricity as priorities -- will cost $7.3 billion this year. This is in addition to the cost of the occupation itself, variously estimated at between $4 billion and $5 billion a month.
But analysts say it's also a case of a lack of coherent forward planning for the occupation coming home to roost. Although the war plans were prepared with calibrated precision, it is by now an undisputed fact that not enough thought went into the next phase of the operation -- picking up the pieces of a shattered country.
Partly, the analysts say this was because post-war plans prepared by the Pentagon, which has insisted all along on being the lead agency on the Iraqi "peace" as well as the war, were based on assumptions that were not borne out by developments, including the death or capture of Saddam Hussein, and the discovery of weapons of mass destruction.
Bush administration officials say great progress has been made. They reel off a list, starting with the creation of an Iraqi Governing Council, as a first step in building a democratic political system. A judicial court system is also up and running and food gets delivered regularly, even to remote villages. But glaring troubles remain. In addition, as analysts point out, the occupation administration run by J. Paul Bremer remains the sole administrative authority.
Before the conflict, a detailed post-war scenario was prepared by the U.S. State Department and submitted to the Pentagon planners. But the Pentagon "shelved it in its entirety," as one diplomatic source in Washington put it.
From all accounts, the plan was rejected because it didn't fit into the neo-conservative view of the world held by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and senior Pentagon civilians in which Americans would be welcomed in Baghdad with flowers as liberators, Iraqis would cooperate enthusiastically with U.S. plans to rebuild their country, and all protest would be fueled by Islamic extremists.
The scenario took into account political and practical dimensions of the reconstruction. Based on inter-agency discussions, the plan called for middle level and even some senior members of the Iraqi bureaucracy who had not been involved in crimes against humanity to keep their posts though they were members of the Saddam's ruling Baathist Party, thus providing continuity and easing the transition.
Similarly, certain units of the Iraqi army and of the police were not to be disbanded to help U.S. troops maintain law and order, and stop any looting that might occur. The parallel, said some U.S. officials, was Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, where purges of communist officials and the military were either very selective or carried out over a long period to avoid too much social upheaval.
"The State Department and other agencies thought there was general agreement on that point," recalled one well-informed European diplomat, "but once Baghdad fell, the army was disbanded, the police were allowed to disappear, and Baathists lost their jobs. The Americans had effectively isolated themselves as occupiers."
The White House has always played down reports of differences between Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell as friendly rivalry. But somewhat lower down the line, the rivalry is anything but friendly. Meetings on Iraq between State and Defense officials are "trench warfare," according to more than one knowledgeable source.
The most-recent wrangle was over who would represent Iraq at the U.N. General Assembly when the world body reconvenes in mid-September. The Pentagon wanted a member of the newly formed Iraqi Governing Council to fill Iraq's seat.
Other U.N. countries balked at this, arguing that the IGC was not a sovereign government, but an interim body put in place by the occupying power (the United States) to lay the groundwork for a democratic system in Iraq. The State Department supported this view. The Pentagon neo-cons dug in their heels.
Late last week, the Bush administration and the United Nations struck a compromise. A Security Council resolution recognized the role of the IGC. In return, the Bush administration removed its opposition to the United Nations establishing a working presence in Iraq, mainly in the humanitarian field.
In Iraq itself, according to diplomats with first hand experience, Bremer's civilian administration is short of staff, and frequently seems to lack a sure hand. One reason for this could be that staffers are rotated home every couple of months, and there is little continuity.
Cooperation between the authority and the military can be patchy. For instance, a detainee in the makeshift military detention camp at Baghdad International Airport can be held for 90 days without being brought before a magistrate. On the other hand, the administration has determined that a suspect in the custody of the Iraqi police must have his case reviewed by a magistrate with 24 hours. Paperwork and record keeping are still disorganized, and family members can spend days looking for a relative who has been arrested. The military still has a free hand to set up a checkpoint wherever they deem it necessary. But impromptu checkpoints account for the death of many of the Iraqis shot by U.S. troops in their cars because the Iraqis frequently fail to take note of the new checkpoint until it's too late.
Lack of "sensitivity training" and a shortage of Arab speakers are common problems in both the army of occupation and Bremer's administration. Last week, in Baghdad's populous Sadr City, U.S. troops killed a demonstrator in a Shiite protest after the wind from an army helicopter ripped a Shiite religious banner from on top of a communications tower. Shiite sources said the victim was a 10-year-old boy.
Although the Army maintained that the soldiers sent to investigate the protest opened fire only after a rifle grenade had been fired at them, the unit's colonel sent a letter to the local clerics apologizing for the shooting. This weekend, senior Army officers, not members of the civilian administration were negotiating with clerics over a demand that Sadr City -- home for more than 2 million Shiites -- be declared a no-go area for U.S. troops.
Two quoted remarks from the media illustrate the cultural gap between the Iraqis and the U.S. occupiers. A senior cleric in Sadr City, Sheikh Abas al-Zabaydi, exclaimed Thursday, "Are the Americans so stupid that they didn't know the importance of the importance of the flag? This is a huge insult to every Shiite." The flag in question is a square of black material with white writing on it in Arabic.
Also on Thursday, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, came close to admitting that growing jitters from guerrilla attacks that have claimed the lives of 60 men since May 1 have made U.S. soldiers a trifle quick on the trigger. The army, he said in his usual military-speak, was "moving toward a precision approach in the conduct of our operations that begins to take into consideration the Iraqi culture and sensitivities, and we want to be precise in our application of combat power."
On Sunday, Mazen Dana, an award-winning cameraman for the Reuters news agency, was shot dead by U.S. troops in Baghdad. The U.S. military said they thought his camera was a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.