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AFTER THE WAR

Iraqi Advisors Are Left Cooling Their Heels

Reconstruction experts, exiles recruited by the Pentagon, are delayed by logistics. 'Obviously, we are not a priority,' says the team director.

May 27, 2003|Tyler Marshall and Edmund Sanders | Times Staff Writers

BAGHDAD — A team of nearly 150 Iraqi exiles assembled months ago by the Pentagon to advise American authorities during the crucial early phases of a U.S.-led occupation of Iraq remains largely stranded in Kuwait and the United States, with most members still waiting to begin their work, a Pentagon official acknowledged Monday.

"Currently, 17 are in Iraq," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. An additional 31 in Kuwait City have attempted to get to Iraq for several days but have been held up by logistic delays, including canceled flights, sandstorms and engine trouble, the official said.

Emad Dhia, the 51-year-old director of the team, confirmed these numbers in Baghdad on Monday. Dhia was handpicked by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz. Those he assembled were trained by the Pentagon to serve at the highest levels of the U.S.-run Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

Among those waiting are four electric power experts who helped rebuild Iraq's electricity grid following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. As U.S. civil authorities have struggled to get more than a few hours of electricity per day to residents of a capital sweltering in 100-degree heat, two of these specialists have been stranded in Kuwait for two weeks awaiting a military flight into Baghdad. The other two have yet to leave Washington.

Dhia said the delay was due to lack of space on the limited number of aircraft flying into Baghdad's airport. "Obviously, we are not a priority," Dhia said.

The Pentagon official familiar with the team, formally known as the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council, blamed a series of factors for the holdups. In addition to flight problems, these include continued instability in parts of Iraq and confusion caused by the transfer of the civil authority earlier this month from retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner to former career diplomat L. Paul Bremer III.

The exiles were recruited and trained to serve as an essential component in an orderly rebuilding of Iraq's 23 central ministries and 18 provincial governments after decades of Saddam Hussein's rule. They are expected to guide senior U.S. officials through the formidable complexities of Iraq's social and political fabric.

Their knowledge and experience was expected to be especially important in assisting U.S. officials in the task of weeding out former members of Hussein's Baath Party.

The team is an impressive collection of exiles who achieved noteworthy success in their adopted countries, including the United States and Australia. They were coaxed away from lucrative careers to work temporarily for a peaceful transformation to democracy in their native land.

Dhia, for example, is an engineering and program management specialist from Ann Arbor, Mich., on leave from the Pfizer Corp. He was noticed by Wolfowitz because of his role as head of the Forum for Democracy in Iraq, an exile group that cut across most of the nation's ethnic and religious groups and worked closely with the State Department last year in shaping the Bush administration's vision of a post-Hussein Iraq.

Farouk Darweesh, one of the 17 who have made it to the Iraqi capital, is a professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering at Cal Poly Pomona. Before fleeing Iraq in 1979, he was director of graduate studies at Iraq's prestigious University of Technology in Baghdad.

Since arriving 2 1/2 weeks ago, Darweesh has worked closely with Andrew Erdmann, the American responsible for Iraq's Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

"We wanted the best people we could find -- people who were capable of walking into the ministries and gaining the respect of the people who worked there," said the Pentagon official familiar with the group. The problem is that weeks after the war ended, most have yet to enter a ministry.

In addition to the two stranded electric power specialists, 29 other Iraqi advisors are in Kuwait, while nearly 100 remain in Washington, continuing a wait that is already two months old.

"Each of us has left behind a family, a position.... We were very comfortable where we were but want to be party to the process here," Darweesh said. "[The delay] doesn't make sense at all."

For some, the wait has been too long. One Iraqi exile in Kuwait and five in Washington have given up and left.

"We brought in people who are achievers," Dhia said. "They are sitting and waiting at a time when there's no moment in history when this country needs them more. We're committed, but the wait has turned some people off."

Under the original plan, four exiles were assigned to each ministry and each provincial government, with extra advisors ticketed for southern Iraq, where the needs were viewed as greater.

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