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Context of 'April 2003: Iraqi Engineers Ready to Rebuild Country’s Infrastructure'

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Shortly after the March invasion and occupation of Iraq, Iraqis become increasingly concerned about US plans for reconstruction. Iraqis fear the US will contract American companies to rebuild the country’s infrastructure instead of using native skill and labor. The former regime’s Ministry of Housing and Construction has a staff of some 4,000 employees who have been showing up to work daily since mid-April. Akkel Ansari, a ministry engineer, tells the Washington Post that he and other engineers have already begun drawing up plans to rebuild the country’s bombed-out buildings, bridges, and roads. The engineers are ready “to start repairing their damaged country as they did after the 1991 Persian Gulf War,” the Post reports. Iraqis say they are fully capable of rebuilding their country. According to Ansari, the damage is far less severe than that of the First Gulf War. Ansari tells the Washington Post, “The damage was much greater in 1991. More than 150 bridges in Iraq were destroyed in that war, and we rebuilt them all in one year.… But in this war, theft and burning caused more destruction than the bombing. We can put the pieces together again, in less time than 1991. We are ready to start.” Ministry employees say the only help they need from the US is money for salaries and help recovering equipment that was stolen during the mass looting (see April 9, 2003) that accompanied the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government. The amount needed to pay the monthly salaries of most ministry employees would be well under $100. But the US refuses to meet with the engineers. When Ansari goes to a hotel where US Army civil affairs officers are located to request funding for their work, US soldiers guarding the facility point a gun at his face and tell him to leave. Laith Amir, a chief engineer with 24 years of experience testing soil before buildings are constructed or rebuilt, tells the Post: “This is our life’s work. I love my job, and I would like to do something for my country. But we need help and financing. There is no government, no ministries. People have to be sure they will be paid.” [Washington Post, 4/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Laith Amir, Akkel Ansari

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Unchecked looting of Iraqi ministries.Unchecked looting of Iraqi ministries. [Source: Representational Pictures]Widespread looting and general lawlessness breaks out as the security forces of the Baathist regime fade away. Countless age-old treasures are lost when museums are looted (see April 13, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/10/2003; CBC News, 4/11/2003] US officers at Central Command in Qatar tell CBC news it is up to Iraq’s own civil authorities to stop the looting. “At no point do we really see becoming a police force,” says Brigadier General Vincent Brooks. “What we see is taking actions that are necessary to create stability.” [CBC News, 4/12/2003; Washington Post, 8/18/2005] The Coalition Provisional Authority later estimates the cost of the looting at around $12 billion. According to reporter George Packer, the looting canceled out the “projected revenues of Iraq for the first year after the war. The gutted buildings, the lost equipment, the destroyed records, the damaged infrastructure, would continue to haunt almost every aspect of the reconstruction.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 302]

Entity Tags: Coalition Provisional Authority, Vincent Brooks, George Packer

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The priceless Warka Vase, looted from the National Museum and later returned.The priceless Warka Vase, looted from the National Museum and later returned. [Source: Art Daily (.com)]In a press briefing, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismisses the wave of looting and vandalism throughout much of Iraq (see April 9, 2003 and After April 9, 2003) with the comment, “Stuff happens.” The looting is “part of the price” for freedom and democracy, he says, and blames “pent-up feelings” from years of oppression under the rule of Saddam Hussein. He goes on to note that the looting is not as bad as some television and newspaper reports are trying to make it out to be (see Late April-Early May, 2003 and May 20, 2003). “Freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things,” he tells reporters. “They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things. And that’s what’s going to happen here.” General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is with Rumsfeld at the press briefing, agrees. “This is a transition period between war and what we hope will be a much more peaceful time,” he says. CNN describes Rumsfeld as “irritated by questions about the looting.” Rumsfeld says that the images of Iraqi citizens ransacking buildings gives “a fundamental misunderstanding” of what is happening in Iraq. “Very often the pictures are pictures of people going into the symbols of the regime, into the palaces, into the boats and into the Ba’ath Party headquarters and into the places that have been part of that repression,” he explains. “And while no one condones looting, on the other hand one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who’ve had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime.” [US Department of Defense, 4/11/2003; CNN, 4/12/2003]
Accuses the Media of Exaggeration - Rumsfeld accuses the media of exaggerating the violence and unrest throughout the country: “I picked up a newspaper today and I couldn’t believe it. I read eight headlines that talked about chaos, violence, unrest. And it just was Henny Penny—‘The sky is falling.’ I’ve never seen anything like it! And here is a country that’s being liberated, here are people who are going from being repressed and held under the thumb of a vicious dictator, and they’re free. It’s just unbelievable how people can take that away from what is happening in that country! Do I think those words are unrepresentative? Yes.” [US Department of Defense, 4/11/2003] “Let me say one other thing,” he adds. “The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it’s the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think: ‘My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?’” [Huffington Post, 4/11/2009]
'Looting, Lawlessness, and Chaos on the Streets of Iraq' - The next day, Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbiasias reports: “All day long, all over the dial, the visuals revealed looting, lawlessness, and chaos on the streets of Iraq. Nothing was off-limits, not stores, not homes, not embassies, certainly not Saddam Hussein’s palaces nor government buildings and, most disgustingly, not even hospitals.” She is “astonished” at Rumsfeld’s words, and observes that “the only free anything the Iraqis are going to get in the next little while is going to be whatever they can ‘liberate’ from electronics shops. Maybe Rumsfeld’s marketing people can come up with a slogan for that.” [Toronto Star, 4/12/2003]
Archaelogists Outraged at Rumsfeld's Remarks - Historians and archaeologists around the world are outraged at Rumsfeld’s remarks. Jane Waldbaum, the president of the Archaeological Institute of America, says her agency warned the US government about possible looting as far back as January 2003. She says she is as horrified by Rumsfeld’s cavalier attitude towards the looting as she is with the looting itself. “Donald Rumsfeld in his speech basically shrugged and said: ‘Boys will be boys. What’s a little looting?’” she says. “Freedom is messy, but freedom doesn’t mean you have the freedom to commit crimes. This loss is almost immeasurable.” [Salon, 4/17/2003]
Failure to Protect Hospitals, Museums - Four days after Rumsfeld makes his remarks, progressive columnist John Nichols notes that had a Democratic or liberal government official made such remarks, Republicans and conservatives would be “call[ing] for the head” of that official. Nichols notes what Rumsfeld failed to: that looters stripped hospitals, government buildings, and museums to the bare walls. He also asks why US soldiers did not stop the looting, quoting the deputy director of the Iraqi National Museum, Nabhal Amin, as saying: “The Americans were supposed to protect the museum. If they had just one tank and two soldiers nothing like this would have happened.” Nichols notes the irony in the selection of the Oil Ministry as the only government building afforded US protection. He concludes: “When US and allied troops took charge of the great cities of Europe during World War II, they proudly defended museums and other cultural institutions. They could have done the same in Baghdad. And they would have, had a signal come from the Pentagon. But the boss at the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld, who had promised to teach the Iraqi people how to live in freedom, was too busy explaining that rioting and looting are what free people are free to do.” [Nation, 4/15/2003]
Fired for Confronting Rumsfeld over Remark - Kenneth Adelman, a neoconservative member of the Defense Policy Board (DPB) who before the war said that the invasion of Iraq would be a “cakewalk” (see February 13, 2002), later confronts Rumsfeld over the “stuff happens” remark. In return, according to Adelman’s later recollection, Rumsfeld will ask him to resign from the DPB, calling him “negative.” Adelman will retort: “I am negative, Don. You’re absolutely right. I’m not negative about our friendship. But I think your decisions have been abysmal when it really counted. Start out with, you know, when you stood up there and said things—‘Stuff happens.‘… That’s your entry in Bartlett’s [Famous Quotations]. The only thing people will remember about you is ‘Stuff happens.’ I mean, how could you say that? ‘This is what free people do.’ This is not what free people do. This is what barbarians do.… Do you realize what the looting did to us? It legitimized the idea that liberation comes with chaos rather than with freedom and a better life. And it demystified the potency of American forces. Plus, destroying, what, 30 percent of the infrastructure.” Adelman will recall: “I said, ‘You have 140,000 troops there, and they didn’t do jack sh_t.’ I said, ‘There was no order to stop the looting.’ And he says, ‘There was an order.’ I said, ‘Well, did you give the order?’ He says, ‘I didn’t give the order, but someone around here gave the order.’ I said, ‘Who gave the order?’ So he takes out his yellow pad of paper and he writes down—he says, ‘I’m going to tell you. I’ll get back to you and tell you.’ And I said, ‘I’d like to know who gave the order, and write down the second question on your yellow pad there. Tell me why 140,000 US troops in Iraq disobeyed the order. Write that down, too.’ And so that was not a successful conversation.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: John Nichols, US Department of Defense, Jane Waldbaum, Richard B. Myers, Kenneth Adelman, Iraqi Oil Ministry, Nabhal Amin, Donald Rumsfeld, Antonia Zerbiasias, Iraqi National Museum

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Deputy curator Mohsen Hassan sits amidst the wreckage in the National Museum.Deputy curator Mohsen Hassan sits amidst the wreckage in the National Museum. [Source: Getty Images / Salon]The New York Times reports that in the four days of looting in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities (see April 9, 2003 and After April 9, 2003), the National Museum of Iraq has been almost completely pillaged. Over 170,000 artifacts have been stolen or destroyed from the museum, which once boasted an irreplaceable collection of artifacts from Mesopotamia dating back as far as 7,000 years. The Times reports that archaeologists and specialists once regarded the museum as “perhaps the richest of all such institutions in the Middle East.” Only today have museum curators and government officials been able to start cataloguing the losses, as the waves of looting have begun to ebb, and fires set in dozens of government buildings begun to burn themselves out. While some treasures may have been stored in safes and vaults, the 28 galleries of the museum, and the museum’s main storage vaults, have been “completely ransacked,” the Times reports. What could not be taken was vandalized; 26 huge statues were methodically decapitated. Museum officials are enraged that US troops refused to protect the building (with one exception, a single intervention on April 10 that lasted about half an hour). The museum’s corridors are littered with smashed ceramics and burned-out torches of rags soaked in gasoline. “All gone, all gone,” one curator says. “All gone in two days.” Iraqi archaeologist Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammed describes a crowd of thousands of looters armed with rifles, pickaxes, knives, clubs, and hunks of metal torn from automobiles. He watched as they stormed in and out of the complex, carrying precious antiquities away in wheelbarrows and handcarts. Deputy curator Mohsen Hassan watched helplessly as men with sledgehammers smashed glass display cases to get at the valuables inside. Some of the looters were from the impoverished districts of Baghdad, Hassan recalls, but many were middle class citizens who seemed to know just what they were looking for. “Did some of them know the value of what they took?” Hassan says. “Absolutely, they did. They knew what the most valued pieces in our collection were.” Muhammed blames the Americans for not securing the museum, as do many other Iraqis. “A country’s identity, its value and civilization resides in its history,” he says. “If a country’s civilization is looted, as ours has been here, its history ends. Please tell this to President Bush. Please remind him that he promised to liberate the Iraqi people, but that this is not a liberation, this is a humiliation.” [New York Times, 4/13/2003; St. Petersburg Times, 2/6/2005] Later investigations prove that many of the antiquities thought looted were actually hidden away by museum curators (see June 13, 2003).

Entity Tags: National Museum of Iraq, Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammed, New York Times, Mohsen Hassan

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warns US officials that the Al Qaqaa military facility must be kept under close supervision. The facility has long been a storage cache for hundreds of tons of extremely powerful explosives such as HMX and RDX since 1991, when, in the aftermath of the Gulf War, the UN locked down the facility. In 1996, the United Nations used some of the Al Qaqaa explosives to destroy a large Iraqi germ warfare facility. The IAEA repeatedly warned the US about the explosives cache before the March invasion; with the current wave of looting and depredations occurring around the country (see April 9, 2003), terrorists or other unfriendlies could, the agency says, help “themselves to the greatest explosives bonanza in history.” In October 2004, the IAEA will come to believe that looting of the explosives began in April 2003 because of “the theft and looting of the governmental installations due to lack of security.” That same month, the US media will learn that at least 380 tons of explosives from the Al Qaqaa cache have gone missing (see October 10, 2004 and October 25, 2004). [New York Times, 10/25/2004]

Entity Tags: United Nations, International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

US administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer announces that Iraq’s economy will be revived through “free trade.” “A free economy and a free people go hand in hand,” he says, adding that the occupation powers “would like to see market prices brought into the economy… [and the] privatization of key elements.” State subsidies—which up until now have supplied ordinary Iraqis with affordable food, gasoline, and other essentials—will eventually be eliminated. According to Bremer, “history tells us that substantial and broadly held resources, protected by private property, private rights, are the best protection of political freedom. Building such prosperity in Iraq will be a key measure of our success here.” The Washington Post notes that “Iraqis would most likely not be deciding for themselves what kind of economy will replace the state-planned system that functioned under deposed president Saddam Hussein.” The paper also warns that “dismantling Iraq’s state-managed system holds big risks for the occupation authority at a time when most Iraqis are struggling to get by.” [Agence France-Presse, 5/26/2003; Washington Post, 5/27/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 5/28/2003] Bremer also announces the creation of a trade-credit authority that would extend generous lines of credit to Iraq’s ministries, government-owned factories, and private companies so they can import needed goods and equipment (much of which had disappeared during the initial period of mass looting, see April 9, 2003). [New York Times, 5/26/2003; Agence France-Presse, 5/26/2003; Washington Post, 5/27/2003] “It will be a substantial credit facility that first symbolically indicates to the world that Iraq is open for business and also provides a practical incentive to people who want to trade with Iraq,” Bremer says. The agency will be funded by private banks and the Central Bank of Iraq [Agence France-Presse, 5/26/2003] , which is being overseen by Peter McPherson, a former deputy Treasury secretary and a Bank of America executive. [Washington Post, 5/9/2003] Bremer says that American and British companies will be among the first to benefit from these lines of credit. [New York Times, 5/26/2003]

Entity Tags: L. Paul Bremer, Peter McPherson

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

President Bush signs the ‘Declaration of Principles’ as part of a teleconference with Prime Minister al-Maliki.President Bush signs the ‘Declaration of Principles’ as part of a teleconference with Prime Minister al-Maliki. [Source: White House]The White House issues a “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America.” The “Declaration of Principles” is signed by both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. According to the White House press release, the declaration will affirm the “long-term relationship [of] two fully sovereign and independent states with common interests… based on the heroic sacrifices made by the Iraqi people and the American people for the sake of a free, democratic, pluralistic, federal, and unified Iraq.” The principles, as enumerated by the White House, include the following:
bullet Supporting the Republic of Iraq in defending its democratic system against internal and external threats;
bullet Defending of the Iraqi constitution;
bullet “Providing security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace”;
bullet Helping Iraq combat “all terrorist groups, at the forefront of which is al-Qaeda, Saddamists, and all other outlaw groups regardless of affiliation, and destroy[ing] their logistical networks and their sources of finance, and defeat[ing] and uproot[ing] them from Iraq”;
bullet Supporting and training the Iraq Security Force;
bullet Supporting efforts to achieve national reconciliation;
bullet Supporting Iraq’s attempts to “enhance its position in regional and international organizations and institutions so that it may play a positive and constructive role in the region and the world,” as well as assisting it in joining the World Trade Organization and achieving “most favored” trading status with the US;
bullet Helping Iraq achieve peaceful relations with its neighboring countries;
bullet Promoting “cultural, educational, and scientific exchanges between” Iraq and the US;
bullet Helping Iraq in its “transition to a market economy”;
bullet Building Iraq’s economic infrastructure and institutions;
bullet Encouraging foreign investment, “especially American investments, to contribute to the reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraq”;
bullet Helping Iraq recover funds and properties illegally hidden away by the family and associates of former dictator Saddam Hussein, “as well as antiquities and items of cultural heritage, smuggled before and after April 9, 2003” (see April 9, 2003);
bullet Helping Iraq secure “forgiveness of its debts and compensation for the wars waged by the former regime.”
The declaration states that Iraq will request a final extension of the UN-mandated Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I); after that extension expires, Iraq’s UN status will revert to the levels enjoyed before August 1990’s UN Resolution 661 that determined the country was “a threat to international peace and security.” Iraq will, in the eyes of the UN, then enjoy “the full sovereignty of Iraq over its territories, waters, and airspace, and its control over its forces and the administration of its affairs.” The White House wants a formal agreement to this end signed by July 31, 2008. [White House, 11/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Nouri al-Maliki, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, United Nations, World Trade Organization

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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