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Surprise ending: Occupation over

(Page 2 of 3)

But that job has grown consistently harder as violence in the country, targeted especially at US officials and Iraqis working with them, soared.

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When Bremer first arrived last spring, CPA officials still left the walled and guarded Green Zone for dinners at Baghdad restaurants, and US soldiers mingled with Iraqis at ice cream parlors. Today, going to the "red zone," as CPA officials referred to the Baghdad beyond their compound, is done only with heavily armed escorts. An initial plan by Bremer to move out of the former Hussein palace where most of the 1,000-odd CPA staff worked - which sent an unfortunate message to average Iraqis - was scrapped "when he came up against the reality of how bad security is here,'' says a senior CPA official. The new US embassy in Iraq will also be in the Green Zone.

Out of touch

As violence spread and their movement was limited, a wedge was driven between the CPA and the Iraqis they'd come to assist. Many Iraqi government officials came to see the CPA as arrogant and inflexible; many CPA officials came to speak of indolent and self-interested Iraqi counterparts.

"Do you know what it's like to, at great personal risk to yourself, to help set up an Iraqi council and then start to get pestered by its leader for favors?'' complains one CPA official who worked on democracy programs. "We got a gun permit for a councilor worried about his personal safety. Then he says, 'Get me a Glock,' because that was a more prestigious pistol than the one he had. What about what Iraq needs?"

The biggest failing of the occupation is Iraq's security problems, and many experts now say that perhaps the biggest American mistake was the US decision last Mayto disband the Iraqi army, a poorly equipped force of 400,000 that many key Iraqis now say could have been used to pacify the country.

"What you have to understand about Bremer was that he was a missionary, he thought he knows what's best for Iraqis,'' says Issam al-Khafaji, a former CPA adviser who now runs the Iraq Revenue Watch, a nonprofit group critical of CPA spending in Iraq. "He behaved autocratically and ignored good advice," he says.

The decision also put many Iraqis out of a job, and turned them on the US-led coalition, as did the extent of a US-backed program to "de-Baathify," the government, a process designed to remove roughly 60,000 Iraqis from their government jobs, among them 10,000 school teachers. Though these decisions were made in Washington, Bremer implemented them. The order to remove Baathists from government jobs was the first one he signed after arriving in May.

"Often Bremer was making the best of a bad situation,'' says one CPA adviser. "But in the end there were a lot of dumb policies that Bremer helped carry out. He has to bear some of the blame."

Those close to Bremer here continue to defend that decision, saying that there wasn't so much a decision to dissolve the military as the old Army simply melting away. "There was no army left to disband when we got here,'' says a Bremer aide. "There were 250,000-odd conscripts who had just gone home."

"We tried to tell Ambassador Bremer and the American government that this was a mistake - wisdom says that you never want to extend the circle of your enemies,'' says Mr. Shibib, who was a senior Iraqi military officer until his defection in 1990. "The Army should have been used and the de-Baathification limited to the real criminals, but they didn't listen. They were getting bad advice."

Mr. Khafaji and others speak of ambitious US efforts to transform the structure of Iraq's economy - highly centralized along an almost Soviet model - as misguided.

Countless man-hours were spent rewriting Iraqi laws along the radically free-market lines preferred by the current US administration. Many here expect these laws will be repealed or extensively modified once an elected Iraqi government comes to power, given that most Iraqis, with a legacy of socialist government approaches behind them, won't like them.