Iraq mistakes stand for Afghan repeat
Washington may repeat mistakes from Iraq in its efforts in Afghanistan unless lawmakers develop a comprehensive doctrine for reconstruction, an inspector general said.
Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, told the Committee on Armed Services in the U.S. House of Representatives that mistakes in policies for rebuilding failed or failing states stand to be repeated without a significant overhaul.
"Unless Congress and the administration develop a reformed approach for managing reconstruction activities in a contingency environment, including new contingency contracting rules, the mistakes of Iraq stand to be repeated in the expanding effort in Afghanistan and in future contingencies," he said.
U.S. taxpayer money, Bowen warned, was misappropriated by a lack of oversight of the Iraq reconstruction effort, a problem that may continue without a significant revision of the Afghan policy.
"Unless the expanding Afghanistan program draws upon the lessons learned in Iraq, substantial waste of taxpayer dollars will occur," he said.
Bowen pointed to a breach of reconstruction doctrine in Iraq, where U.S. officials attempted major public works projects in areas of the country not yet secured or held by military forces, noting policy makers failed to incorporate a comprehensive strategy there.
"Of the many lessons to be drawn from Iraq reconstruction, the most compelling speak to the need to develop an agreed-upon doctrine and structure for contingency relief and reconstruction operations so that the U.S. is ready when it next must intervene in a failed or failing state," he said.
Iraqi transition a priority, Hill says
The transition from U.S. to Iraqi control over security matters and looming regional conflicts are top priorities for Washington, U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said.
Hill, the choice for the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told lawmakers on Capitol Hill during his confirmation hearing that despite recent gains, challenges still remained for the U.S.-led effort in Iraq, the Navy Times reports.
"We need to make sure that we manage this pivot (to full Iraqi control) … we need to make sure these national elections go well," he said. "So we need to … stand with the Iraqis as they work out internal issues."
U.S. forces, under a bilateral Status of Forces Agreement, are required to pull back from major Iraqi cities by this summer, with the majority of military forces slated for withdrawal by 2011.
U.S. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, said U.S. combat operations in Iraq would end by August 2010 as the mission there transitions from a military conflict to a reconstruction effort.
"I think the president's put together a very prudent program in consultation with the commanders in the field," Hill said.
Hill, who had served as the U.S. envoy for six-party negotiations over the North Korean nuclear program, praised the progress in the Iraqi political environment, saying it was vital to make sure that progress continues.
"I think one of the first issues I have to deal with is to make sure this political process is going forward," Hill said.
Hill faces challenges to his nomination due to his lack of experience in the Middle East and concerns over his handling of the North Korean negotiations.
Syrian, Iraqi officials meet in Baghdad
Damascus praised the political developments in Iraq during bilateral talks on security and economic relations, the Syrian foreign minister said.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, who arrived Wednesday in Baghdad, met with top Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and others, to relay a message from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"My visit to Baghdad came upon directives of President Bashar al-Assad to convey congratulations of Syria as leadership and people to the Iraqi brothers for the outcomes of the Iraqi elections," al-Moallem told reporters, according to the official Syrian Arab News Agency.
The Syrian foreign minister expressed his hope that both countries would enjoy stronger diplomatic and economic ties as Iraq recovers from six years of conflict, SANA reports.
"The national reconciliation is an Iraqi issue," he said "We have no specified proposals, but we have aspirations to achieve the reconciliation, and Syria is ready to help realize this goal."
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, for his part, said strengthened ties between both countries would be beneficial to regional relations.
The Syrian minister also met Thursday with the influential Shiite cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council to discuss fostering ties between the two Arab neighbors.
Private funds rival Afghan drug trade
Private funds from donors in Gulf states and Saudi Arabia to back the Taliban rivals revenue generated from the opium trade in Afghanistan, a top U.S. diplomat said.
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, told NATO officials that private donations have now surpassed narcotics as the primary source of revenue for the Taliban regime, the Financial Times reports.
In the wake of terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Washington moved to persuade nations in the Persian Gulf region to clamp down on private financial support for the Taliban, al-Qaida and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan.
That move cited the heroin trade in Afghanistan as the primary source of insurgent financing, the Times said.
Holbrooke told his NATO allies that beyond insurgents, a significant portion of the revenue generated from opium cultivation had made its way to the coffers of officials linked to the central government in Kabul.
Washington is expected to unveil its new strategy for handling the conflict in Afghanistan soon as the international community prepares to take up the issue at a major conference next week at The Hague, Netherlands.
U.S. vets Afghan envoy; Ban appoints Galbraith
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith as a deputy U.N. envoy to the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.
Galbraith served as an ambassador to Croatia and a top adviser to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He currently sits as a senior fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and has founded an international negotiation company, Windham Resources Group LLC.
The ambassador will oversee matters concerning the August elections and other government issues, along with matters concerning reforms in the security sector of Afghanistan.
He replaces Canadian Christopher Alexander, who concludes his UNAMA assignment at the end of March, the U.N. news center reports.
"The Secretary-General is grateful to Mr. Alexander for his dedicated service in Afghanistan over the past three years, during which he made a valuable contribution to UNAMA's efforts to foster peace and stability in Afghanistan," Ban's spokesperson Michele Montas said.
Meanwhile, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was set to hold a confirmation hearing Thursday for Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, Washington's choice for its next ambassador to Afghanistan.
Eikenberry is the current deputy chief of the NATO military committee in Brussels, having served previously as the top commander of Combined Forces Command -- Afghanistan.
Iran to attend Afghan conference
Iranian officials said they would send a representative to an international conference on Afghanistan scheduled for next week at The Hague, Netherlands.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Iranian support for the international effort in Afghanistan during a meeting with top NATO officials earlier this month, saying the summit would be a "big-tent meeting."
U.S. President Barack Obama is set to unveil a major overhaul of the mission in Afghanistan that includes the deployment of an additional 17,000 U.S. troops and sweeping diplomatic endeavors.
Obama has embarked on a worldwide effort at engaging some of its adversaries. Washington and Tehran share several concerns over the stability of Afghanistan, though ties between the two powers are historically acrimonious.
Hassan Ghashghavi, a spokesman for the Iranian foreign minister, said Tehran has not decided on its representative to The Hague conference, the BBC reports.
Meanwhile, Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency reports that Tehran will dispatch a top Asian diplomat, Mahdi Akhoundzadeh, to Moscow on Friday to attend an Afghan conference organized by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov extended the invitation to the meeting, meant to tackle the strategic challenges in Afghanistan.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and top NATO officials, among others, are expected to attend the conference Friday.