Hogan's Alley

Friday, March 09, 2007

Is Baghdad Buying In To The New US Strategy?

Even as the Democrats in the US Congress continue to press their efforts to choke off the efforts of Gen. Petraeus to suppress violence and stimulate civil growth in Iraq's central city, there are hopeful signs that some in that crippled capital are wanting very much to have it succeed.

Damian Cave reports in the Times that local Shiite officials in Sadr City of east Baghdad are pressing the process forward with all deliberate speed. Key quote:

“We should have an amusement park,” said Mr. Daraji, one of two elected mayors in Sadr City, the sprawling Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad where American and Iraqi troops have been peacefully clearing homes since Sunday. “We want to rehabilitate the area so that families can have fun.”

In an interview at his office, Mr. Daraji said the amusement park was one of several projects that community leaders were pushing American officials to finance in negotiations about how to handle the Shiite Mahdi Army, a militia that has controlled the neighborhood for years.

A concentrated makeover of Sadr City, he said, would support the plan’s goals in two important ways: by giving young Mahdi militants jobs as an alternative to lives of violence and by providing residents with proof of the government’s ability to improve their daily lives.

Mr. Daraji’s requests, however, also reflect a broader effort by Iraqi leaders to dart past “clear and hold” to the more lucrative phase of the new security plan known as “build.”

Even as bombings and killings here continue, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has labeled the plan a success. His Shiite-led government has allotted $10 billion this year for reconstruction throughout the country, and, with billions more expected from the United States, Iraqi leaders at all levels are scrambling for a say in how the windfall might be spent.

They are also pressing for veto power over contracts, blaming an unwieldy American system of subcontracting that was impossible to police for the loss or theft of billions in reconstruction dollars since the war began.

Iraqi figures, political veterans and up and comers are seeking an advisory role.