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Rory Stewart: Views of Afghanistan, Iraq

British diplomat and journalist Rory Stewart walked alone across Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban. The former fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Havard's Kennedy School of Government wrote about it in the memoir The Places in Between. Stewart was later appointed a provincial governor in post-invasion Iraq, and has a memoir about that experience as well.


Other segments from the episode on August 8, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 8, 2006: Interview with Rory Stewart; Interview with Ginger Cruz; Review of Oliver Stone's new film "World Trade Tower."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: British diplomat Rory Stewart discusses his experiences
governing an Iraqi province immediately following US invasion and
his walk through dangerous areas of Afghanistan

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.

By the time he had reached the age of 30, my guest, Rory Stewart, had served
as a British infantry officer, walked from Turkey to Bangladesh and been
appointed to govern a province of 850,000 people in southern Iraq following
the American invasion. He left the country convinced that his early support
for the invasion of Iraq was misplaced, and his travels in Asia have left him
with reduced expectations of what Western intervention can accomplish.

Stewart recounts his experiences in two books recently published. His book
"The Places In Between" focuses on his walk through dangerous areas of
Afghanistan in January 2002 soon after an American-led coalition drove the
Taliban from power. In "The Prince of the Marshes," Stewart describes his
work as part of the Coalition Provisional Authority governing the Iraqi
province of Maysan.

Well, Rory Stewart, welcome to FRESH AIR.

You were 30 when you were given the task of trying to bring some order to this
province of Iraq, Maysan, 850,000 people. It had been very much opposed to
Saddam Hussein and had fallen easily when the coalition forces had invaded,
but it was beset by tremendous poverty, a lack of any governmental authority,
a destroyed economy, and then you have these local leaders that you have to
deal with. You mentioned that there was--what you described as a fat man in a
safari suit, three...(unintelligible) a robe. One was pushing for a gas
station franchise, another wanted treatment for his impotency. How do you
figure out in a situation like that who has real authority and who are the
impostors, who is sincere and who's working a hustle?

Mr. RORY STEWART: I think it's very difficult even for an Iraqi to work that
out. A lot of these people we were dealing with had recently crossed the
border from Iran where they'd been for two decades, often as paid agents with
the Iranian government. These are people who had had very colorful lives.
Many of them had been imprisoned and tortured by Saddam, many had relatives,
close relatives killed by Saddam, had fought from the marshes. Some of them
were clerics, some of them were tribal leaders. Their allegiances were
uncertain. Political parties had been illegal under Saddam, and suddenly 54
new political parties had emerged in this province.

But the advantage that an Iraqi would have over somebody like me is that at
least he would have seen these people's families. He would have seen in the
small town of Mara these people at funerals and weddings and in tribal meeting
halls and have a sense of the context in which they operated. They would
know, perhaps, which ones were corrupt and where they were taking bribes from,
who it was that was still meeting with the Iranian intelligence officers. I
as a newcomer knew almost none of this.

DAVIES: You know, you're, of course, a part of the Coalition Provisional
Authority, and its view of establishing a new government in Iraq was to rely
upon moderates within Iraqi society, hopefully educated, middle-class people
who understood the value of a pluralistic democracy and who could be the
bridge to a different kind of future. That doesn't describe most of the
leaders that you encountered in the province, but there were some, and I'm
wondering how you dealt with those to kind of--the moderates who the Coalition
Provisional Authority thought ought to be elevated and in effect put forward
as examples of a new Iraqi leadership.

Mr. STEWART: Well, one of the most striking examples is the guy who in the
book I call Ali, but his real name was Haida, and he was a 26-year-old who had
studied at Baghdad University, which was very unusual. It's a prestigious
university, very unusual for somebody from this remote province, and he spoke
beautiful English, and he genuinely believed in a program of human rights and
justice, was very pleased that Saddam had gone and thought that this was the
great opportunity to rebuild a more just, more democratic country. And I
personally was very charmed by him. I liked dealing with him very much, but,
of course, the strong sense I got was that he was so far divorced from the
reality of political power in the province. He had no interest really in
Islamist politics, no connection with tribal politics, and his entire manner,
his method, his language was totally alien to the kind of people who really
controlled the place. And indeed, five weeks ago, very sadly, he came in his
car into Maysan and was dragged out of his car and shot on the street,
executed by a militia connected to the current elected government. I didn't
describe his--I didn't put his name in the book because I was worried this
kind of thing would happen to him but now indeed it has, and it's a real
example of the problem that the coalition faces in places like Iraq and
Afghanistan, which is that we're looking for political leaders and we tend to
favor people who are Western-friendly, democratic, liberal and who speak our
language of human rights, but these people are very rarely popular
representatives, effective or powerful.

DAVIES: At one point as people were--as the time of elections was approaching
and parties were more organized, you actually reached into the coffers of the
coalition to actually give some cash to some of the moderate political parties
to help their organization--their organizing and--now, of course, in probably
Britain or the United States, this would be an appalling violation of the
principles of democracy for the government to fund--use taxpayer resources to
fund a political party. This was a very different role. Why was it needed,
justified here?

Mr. STEWART: My instinct was that, in a very unstable, insecure situation in
which the extremists were receiving direct funding from the Iranian Secret
Service and from the Saudi government and from the Syrian government and where
attacks, insurgents' attacks, were happening daily and where a loss of
moderate, relatively educated Iraqis had nobody to turn to, they had nobody to
represent them, it was necessary to give basic funding to the more moderate
Islamist parties, people who did, at least to some extent, endorse a legal
platform and have some simple notions of justice and human rights. These
people needed to be given a chance in order to communicate their message.

DAVIES: You know, a lot of people have criticized the coalition for being so
unprepared for the post-war environment. There was clearly little--far too
little planning and resources put into how to govern a country after it had
been--its leadership had been removed, the looting that was allowed to go on
unchecked, the lack of forethought, resources, the lack of civil
administration and civil police. Had better planning been done, do you think
this might have worked?

Mr. STEWART: No, I don't believe so. I think people have much too much
faith in planning. I think it's a truism, that once this kind of war happens,
this kind of invasion happens, planning tends to go out of the window, because
the one thing you cannot plan for is the reaction of the enemy or in this
case, the Iraqi population. Yes, of course, mistakes were made. We could
have done more planning. We could have made different decisions about the
Baath Party and the army but I don't think these mistakes were decisive.

In other words, I believe that even had we invested more money in planning,
even had we avoided its tactical errors, Iraq would still have been a mess,
and that's a difficult thing for people in government or the military to
acknowledge. They don't like to acknowledge what I strongly believe, which is

there is a very real limit to our capacities as American or British diplomats
or soldiers. We simply do not have the resources, the commitment or the
political culture to run a country where the population doesn't want us to be
there. And I think it's a distraction and a dangerous distraction to focus
too much on the errors made by the administration because people who do that
are almost implying that somehow if we get those things right, we change our
tactic, we do a bit better planning, we'll be able to pull this kind of thing
off better in the future. And I think the lesson to be learned from this is
to be much more cautious about invading in the first place, not to think that
somehow if you get your tactics better you can pull it off.

DAVIES: You know, Iraq some decades ago was--had a thriving economy, at least
as seen in the Arab world and a large middle class. Clearly, things are in
desperate straits at the moment. Can you envision a scenario that should give
Iraqis some hope of a stable country. Can they get to a brighter future from
this point, can you see it?

Mr. STEWART: Yes, I do believe that they can get to a brighter future. But
for that to happen, we--America and Britain--need to stop micromanaging and
interfering. Basically, we need to genuinely empower Iraqi politicians rather
than just talking about it. The only hope that Iraq has got, the only way of
avoiding a civil war, the only way of building a prosperous future, is for a
political resolution to happen between the Shia and Sunni politicians. And
that will only happen in essence when they're forced to make that kind of
resolution. Left to their own devices, I genuinely believe that Iraqis are
proud of being Iraqi, or at least Arab Iraqis--I'm leaving the Kurds out of
the equation for the moment--but Sunni and Shia Arabs are Iraqi first and
Sunni and Shia second, and they will be able to finally negotiate a compromise
and they will be able to establish a functioning government.

DAVIES: You said that in Iraq it's time for the Western forces to withdraw
and let Iraqi leaders work this out. I wonder if you think three years of
occupation has done great damage to the prospects for Iraqis settling their
own issues.

Mr. STEWART: I suspect it may have done. My instinct is that we should have
held elections almost immediately, that the original plan of a light footprint
was probably the correct one. I was very struck when I returned last year to
find that in Maysan where the British had been very active and tried quite
aggressively to defeat armed insurgencies, disarm militia groups and try to
guide the political progress, the province was very unstable whereas in the
Italian province next door in Dhi Qar, where I'd served for five months, where
the Italians, not always for the best of reasons, had done very little.
They'd very rarely left their bases. They had done relatively few development
projects. They certainly hadn't attempted to confront armed militias or
seriously influence the political process. It was ironically more stable,
that the Italians, often I think for quite bad reasons, had failed to
interfere, but the results have been relatively good because the local
politicians in Dhi Qar had been forced to sort out their own problems,
establish their own security and find their own compromises.

I'm sorry to say that I think that kind of model would have been better
throughout the rest of Iraq, but in order to follow that kind of model, the
coalition would have had to accept that the kinds of settlements that Iraqis
are likely to arrive at are not likely to be the kind of settlements we
necessarily anticipated or hoped for.

DAVIES: My guest is Rory Stewart. His new book is "The Prince of the

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: My guest is Rory Stewart. He's a former British diplomat. He's--his
account of his governing a province in southern Iraq is called "The Prince of
the Marshes." He has also written a book about his trek across Afghanistan
called "The Places in Between."

Well, Rory Stewart, I wanted to talk about your walk across some of the
remote--most remote areas of Afghanistan, which you did in January 2002 in the
winter. I--reading this, I don't understand how you didn't die of both
frostbite and/or gunfire. It seemed to be an area in which AK-47s are more
common than working toilets. Why did you undertake this dangerous journey?

Mr. STEWART: As a British diplomat, I think we suffer enormously in attempts
to engage with the rest of the world, from the fact that we tend to analyze
these countries, either from our own capitals or if we're in the country at
all, from within heavily defended compounds and air-conditioned armored
vehicles. I felt that spending the time--I walked from Turkey to Bangladesh,
across Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal--staying in 500 different
village houses, exposing myself to the landscape, traveling at that pace of 20
or 25 miles a day and listening to villagers night after night was very
important in order to understand what I see as the key challenge facing us,
which is acknowledging differences in cultural perspective.

And the other lesson, of course, I took from it, one of the reasons I was very
interested in the walk, is you find that one village is often extremely
different from its neighbor. How difficult it is to generalize. In one Hazar
village ruled by a young Iranian-sponsored cleric, things were quite different
to the village 15 miles down the road governed by an old feudal family that
had been sitting there for 300 years. And this affected their views on the
constitution, their views on central government, their views on their own
economic future and their views on other ethnic groups.

DAVIES: The isolation and poverty of these villages that you visited was, you
know, quite striking. You said that a lot of them--that many had heard of
America, probably not Britain, that some had some idea of what the--had heard
of the World Trade Center but really had very little idea of what it had been
or why the coalition forces had been bombing their country.

Mr. STEWART: Well, that's absolutely right, and in some of these villages,
the women in particularly had never been more than three-hours' walk from
their village in their life. Often the market town I would have walked from
that morning--five, six hours' walk away would be as distant to these women in
their own minds as Paris. There was no electricity between Haraz and Kabul,
and therefore no television. And, therefore, people perceived the world,
related to the world, largely I found through the medium of Islam. That was
their great global possession. That was what gave them a sense of belonging
to a much broader community than simply that of their own ethnic group or
their own country. And it was very easy for them to rely on quite a
conservative reading of Islam and quite a conservative nationalism.

DAVIES: You know, a lot of us in the West, at least in contrast to the mess
in Iraq--Afghanistan is a relatively successful incursion--you know, having
achieved a goal and installed a government which seems to be stable, but
clearly over the last year, there are a lot of very disturbing trends, an
escalating pattern of violence and complaints about, you know, warlords
increasing and opiates being grown more. What do you see happening in
Afghanistan? What's the future there?

Mr. STEWART: I think we need to be careful not to be overambitious for a
country like Afghanistan. I think Afghan's relatively happy that there's no
civil war now in Kabul, that the extreme brutality of the Taliban government
has been removed, particularly from areas like...(unintelligible)...where
where the Shia Hazar has suffered very badly.

Yes, it's absolutely true that Afghanistan is still a very vulnerable, fragile
state. There's very strong warlordism. There's a lot of drugs being grown.
Government remains weak and often corrupt. However, in some sense, these are
the hazards that affect almost all developing countries. Countries in
sub-Saharan Africa and the neighbors of Afghanistan, such as Pakistan and
Tajikistan. They're not problems that can be easily solved by foreigners
throwing their weight around and intervening. And I think we should relax a
little bit and trust the Afghans to sort things out and not feel panicked as
we often do into thinking we need to throw--as the United States or
Britain--that we need to throw more resources into this situation or that
we're in any position to sort these kinds of things out.'

DAVIES: But you know, I have to say--I mean, reading the kind of poverty that
you encountered on your walk through Afghanistan, and if I read recently 6
percent of Afghanistans have electricity, 20 percent have clean water. Apart
from putting soldiers on the ground, it does seem like there's a need for
enormous efforts to provide, you know, sanitation and electricity to some of
these rural areas. No?

Mr. STEWART: That's true. The cost of these things, unbelievable. I mean,
Afghanistan currently generates less than 100 megawatts of power, and demand
is estimated at about four and a half thousand megawatts. In Kabul, which is
a city of three and a half million people, there is no sewerage system.
There's no sewage at all. To install these things and sort it out--I mean,
simply to generate that amount of electricity would probably cost 5 or 6
billion before you think about the transmission and distribution lines. To
install a complete sewerage system for a city of three and a half million
people would cost into the tens of billions or more.

So I suppose the question facing the West is, do we think that the poverty in
Afghanistan necessitates this kind of inven--intervention. Do we think the
security situation in Afghanistan is going to be sufficiently benign for us to
put that number of engineers on the ground to try to sort out this kind of
problem? So, yes, of course. I mean, as somebody who now lives in Kabul and
I'm running a project in Kabul which is working on delivering basic services
to the historic city and trying to regenerate the historic city, I'm very much
in favor of more investment coming in. But we need to be realistic about
what's likely to happen.

I was very aware when I was in Iraq, and everyone said, `Why haven't they got
the electricity going in Baghdad?' That we still have not sorted out the
electricity in Pristina in Kosovo, and that's seven years after the
intervention in Kosovo we still haven't got the electricity going. We, as the
international committee, are not very good at these kind of projects. We
simply don't implement them very well, even in quite a small, friendly
environment like Kosovo, with a population of a couple of million.

So I'm very skeptical about our ability, really, to deliver large-scale
infrastructural change to Afghanistan, and I wouldn't like to raise Afghan's
expectations that we would be able to deliver that.

DAVIES: Well, Rory Stewart, thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr. STEWART: Thank you very much for having me.

DAVIES: Rory Stewart. His book "The Places in Between" describes his walk
through Afghanistan in 2002. He's also written "The Prince of the Marshes"
about his experiences in southern Iraq.

I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

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Interview: Deputy inspector general for Iraq reconstruction Ginger
Cruz discusses problems encountered rebuilding war-torn Iraq

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, filling in for Terry Gross.

Rebuilding war-torn Iraq amidst a raging insurgency is a tough job.
Accounting for the money spent and assessing the results of that effort are
the job of my guest, Ginger Cruz. She's the deputy inspector general for Iraq
reconstruction. Her office recently released its 10th quarterly report on the
reconstruction effort. It cited progress in some areas but also detailed a
series of failures. A $200 million radio network that doesn't work. A
hospital whose cost is double. And an oil pipeline that dumps crude onto the
ground. Ginger Cruz just returned from a two-month trip to Iraq.

Well, Ginger Cruz, welcome to FRESH AIR. This is your 10th quarterly report

on Iraq reconstruction, and it says in part that most projects visited this
quarter showed high-quality workmanship and effective quality control and
quality assurance programs. Should we be optimistic about the progress of
reconstruction of Iraq?

Ms. GINGER CRUZ: The progress on reconstruction, Dave, is really a mixed
story. While many of our inspections of actual sites--hospitals, railway
stations, roads, power plants--showed that in individual cases the quality of
construction was good, and the quality control was there, there are
significant problems found in our audits and in our investigations with cost
issues and with scheduling issues. In addition to that, there are many
projects which are yet to start or which are experiencing significant delays
because of the security situation.

So the reconstruction story is definitely mixed. There are successes that are
often not that well known by the American public, but by the same token,
there's also a lot of failures which our reports do find.

DAVIES: Well, let's look at some of the projects that were problematic. One
of them was the Basra Children's Hospital. What happened there?

Ms. CRUZ: The Basra Children's Hospital was supposed to be completed in
December 2005, and we initiated an audit at the request of the ambassador
because there was significant concern that there was not accurate reporting.
When we concluded our review, it turns out that the project is going to be
about 150 percent over budget, and it will probably not be complete until July
2007. Again, schedule and cost delays that are really hindering progress in
the health sector, and so right now, there is movement by the Gulf Regional
Division of the Army Corps to take over the project from Bechtel which has
failed in its ability to get this hospital up and running.

DAVIES: What's Bechtel's explanation for what happened?

Ms. CRUZ: Bechtel says that security was a significant factor. They say
they've tried to get the project on track but have failed to do so. But that
is something that has been experienced all across the country. There are
projects that are being executed in governorates all across Iraq that are
experiencing security issues, and in many cases, the Iraq contractors, who are
subcontracted to the larger companies are getting the work done so when we did
our audit, we considered that it was a failure on the part of Bechtel.

DAVIES: Another project that was troubled was an effort to build a new prison
at Nasiriyah. What happened there?

Ms. CRUZ: The prison in Nasiriyah started out as a proposal for 4400 beds,
and the contractor on that, Parsons, put in a bid that was way above the
amount of money that was available, so there was a negotiation process. At
the end of the day, they came to an agreement to build an 800-bed facility,
which was significantly diminished from the initial proposal, and they were
supposed to complete that by the middle of this year. Instead, again it's a
question of lack of funds and overruns of time. When we went out to inspect
the facility, although the quality of construction was good, at the time we
were there, in early summer, it was only 23 percent complete, so the Gulf
Region Division, again, the Army Corps, has taken a look at it, decided since
the money was exhausted and since the project was not anywhere near
completion, they were going to terminate Parsons and instead give the contract
directly to the Iraqi subcontractors because there's a greater likelihood that
they'll be able to finish the project within the time allotted and within the
budget that's left.

DAVIES: You know, it's interesting. I think probably a lot of Americans
would assume that Iraqi contractors would be among those most willing to
pilfer funds and provide shoddy workmanship, and they would probably believe
that Western contractors would be both higher quality and more reliable. It
sounds like you're saying that the Iraqi contractors in some respects were
more reliable.

Ms. CRUZ: There is certainly a lot of pressure on Iraqi contractors to do
work well, because they live and work in that environment, and if an Iraqi
contractor is building a facility, they tend to know the people in the
village, and if they do shoddy work, the people in the village will know who's
responsible for it, and that won't be acceptable.

I--when I was there--I just returned from two months in Iraq--went to visit a
cardiac facility that was being constructed by an Iraqi contractor, and the
cost was remarkably low. It was $500,000 for a facility that had 30 beds in
it. It was a critical care unit, and I spoke with the director of the
hospital who said that the engineer who was doing the work was someone who had
been a patient at the hospital. He'd had heart problems and he'd been treated
there, and so there was a community tie of this contractor to the facility and
he did good work, and as we toured it, we found that the quality of the
workmanship was very high.

On the other side, I also went to visit some hospitals that were being put up
by a large design-build company--I believe it was a Parsons project--and the
quality of work was not as good, and part of the reason was it was
subcontracted several times. There was not as much management at the site.
The international companies, because of the exorbitant cost of security, were
not able to put managers and quality control folks on the ground, and so the
general quality of construction that we observed, when we were there, was not
as high.

DAVIES: In a corner of this report, it mentions that over this 30--this
three-month period that this report covers, there were 56 new contractors'
death claims. Right?

Ms. CRUZ: Yes.

DAVIES: That's 56 people who died simply trying to rebuild Iraq.

Ms. CRUZ: Yes. It's something that I think many people don't often talk
about or think about. This is one of the deadliest reconstruction programs
ever carried out in recent history. The fact that there's 575 people that
were working just in the reconstruction area--we're not talking about civilian
deaths, we're not talking about military deaths. We're talking about people
who were going out to participate in the rebuilding of a water treatment plant
or a power plant or a school who were killed because of their participation in
the reconstruction plan, and that's something that I think many people are not
necessarily aware of, which is very sad.

DAVIES: Another project that has been problematic is an oil pipeline in
northern Iraq that spans a couple of canals. What's happened there?

Ms. CRUZ: The...(unintelligible)...and Riyad pipelines have been a problem
from the beginning, and that is emblematic of some of the problems that we
have with reconstruction. Well, we've got the ministry of oil, which is
trying to use its ability to get these projects going, mixed in with large
companies that are brought in by the United States, and the fact that
coordination between all of the parties is not as crisp as it could be, and so
as a result, it falls through the cracks. When we went to do an inspection of
those pipelines, they were not nearly complete.

The reports that are brought back to the reconstruction program vary widely.
Some say it's 80 percent complete; some say it's 10 percent complete. It was
very hard to nail down exactly how far along these pipelines were. And the
problem is these are critical pipelines. This is a set of pipelines near
al-Fatha that carries oil across--both to the refineries and for export, and
there's the potential for billions of dollars' worth of revenue that's needed
so critically for Iraq's operation and for Iraq's capital development that's
not flowing through these pipelines because, through a series of mishaps, they
have not been completed.

DAVIES: Are they leaking?

Ms. CRUZ: They are leaking. These pipelines--many of them are extremely
old. The sanctions and the years of Saddam Hussein's rule basically took the
infrastructure from the 1980s and left it in a state of complete disrepair, so
by the time 2003 rolled around and the reconstruction managers from the United
States started to try and build up the oil system, it was very difficult
because corrosion has really taken its toll on many of these pipelines. The
amount of money needed to get all of the oil systems--all of the pipelines and
all of the gas oil separation plants back online is substantial. And I talked
with Minister Shahristani who said that the goal is really to use Iraq money,
to use international investment and to get the oil economy going again, but
it's going to be definitely a couple of years before the infrastructure will
be able to carry the amount of oil necessary to really get the economy back on
its feet.

DAVIES: My guest is Ginger Cruz. She is deputy inspector general for Iraq

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: If you're just joining me, my guest is Ginger Cruz. She is deputy
inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

Let's look at some of the challenges that the reconstruction effort has faced.
You write that, in this report, that "Corruption is endemic and destructive."
How widespread is corruption in the reconstruction effort?

Ms. CRUZ: Corruption is, as defined in the Western world, something that
really has been a part of life in Iraq for many years. It was the price of
doing business. And so as this new democratic regime is taking form in Iraq,
the question of how bad corruption is going to be in this new regime is really
something that is a new question for the Iraqi people. They, three years ago
under Ambassador Bremer, had the creation of the Commission on Public
Integrity. The Board of Supreme Audits was recreated and the inspector
general system was created. And over the last three years, those three
entities--we call them the pillars of anti-corruption--have really struggled
to create for themselves the conditions necessary to be able to fight this war
on corruption. But, despite all of their best efforts, despite the fact that
there's 36,000 cases in front of the inspectors general and there's 1400 cases
in front of the CPI, and they estimate about $5 billion worth of corruption
that they're looking at, there's still a lot more to do.

There was a study that was done under the military in June that found that
about a third of Iraqis pay some kind of a bribe for basic public
services--for gasoline, for housing, for security, for electricity--and
there's a lot of reason, there's a lot of incentive at the moment, to see if
these ministries can't attack the corruption and get it down to a manageable
level because if they don't, it could certainly threaten the state.

DAVIES: Have there been any bribe attempts on your own inspectors?

Ms. CRUZ: Well, we're not in that position. We did have one undercover
agent recently who did a sting operation, and as a result, we did get a guilty
plea from a US contractor who was attempting to give a $30,000 bribe in
exchange for a contract for vests and some mapping equipment for the Iraqi
police. We did a sting operation in conjunction with the joint contracting
command, and as a result of the undercover operation of our officers, we were
able to make the arrest and subsequently get the guilty plea.

DAVIES: Was a lot of money converted to cash and delivered to people to

Ms. CRUZ: Absolutely. At the beginning, it was a cash economy. When you
were in Iraq, the only way to move the money around, to get it out to the
subcontractors and to get it on the ground was to do so in duffel bags. Much
of the development fund for Iraq money, the Iraqi money, was done in that
manner, and a certain portion of American money was used in that manner,
especially when it involved Iraqi subcontractors as well. That makes the
record keeping a lot more difficult and it also makes the ability to go back
and account for that money more difficult, and that's something that we are
currently tackling and we're working with the Department of Defense to try and
go back and make those records hold to really understand where all the money

DAVIES: In May the new Iraqi government took office, and this raises the
question of whether the, you know, control of these reconstruction funds are
now going to move from American hands to Iraqi hands. What kind of transition
issues are you facing?

Ms. CRUZ: The Iraqi government has a lot of capacity-building issues facing
it currently, and I think the thing that reconstruction managers didn't fully
appreciate when they came in 2003 was how sheltered and how isolated Iraq had
been for 20 years. Much of their infrastructure, much of their master
planning, much of their capacity to do work was really stuck in the late

I visited the mayor's office in Baghdad and talked with some of the water and
sewer engineers that were there, and there were these women who had been
working there for 20 years who had hand-drawn the sewer plans for the city,
and they knew where the new sewer lines needed to go and where the additions
could have helped improve the system incrementally. A lot of times their work
was really pushed to the side and fancy solutions were brought in.

For example, they brought in AutoCAD, which is a computer system which
automates the drawing of a sewer system, and they happily brought that in
with, you know, printers and all of the latest technology, installed it in the
office, and I'm looking at these women who had most of them never used the
Internet, never used computers, and all of a sudden they have to go from
hand-drawing these sewer maps to using the latest in technology. The gap
there is significant. It's going to take more than a five-week training
program from the people who own the computer system to get them up to speed,
and I think that's an example of what's going on all across the country.

DAVIES: We just interviewed Rory Stewart, who was in the British foreign
service, and he was effectively in charge of a province in southern Iraq in
the first year following the invasion, and he told us that when he went back a
year later to the region that he had worked so hard to help redevelop, that it
was striking how many people said that they had done nothing, accomplished
nothing. They seem to get no credit for the efforts they had made. You've
been to Iraq. Do you have any sense of how the reconstruction efforts are
regarded by Iraqi citizens?

Ms. CRUZ: The feedback that we get is mixed, and the disconnect is really a
function of output vs. outcome, and let me explain that. In many cases, the
American investments have produced products which are not necessarily
impacting the lives of the Iraqi people. In other words, if we've built water
treatment plants, if the Iraqi government itself is not able to fix the water
pipes that actually go to people's houses, the person on the street does not
see the value because they're not getting better water. We've built a lot of
the generation plants but if the distribution networks are not there, and the
power lines are not bringing that power to the people, and they still get up
in the morning and only have four hours of power all day, they are not going
to see the value of what has been put forth by the reconstruction program.

It's really an uphill struggle. If the Iraqi government is able to get
security in hand, once they are able to control the security situation, the
ministries will be able to get the facilities back on line, and there will be
a boomerang, we're hoping. There'll be--all of that capacity that's been
built up will finally come to bear and then the Iraqi people will be able to
see it. But until the security is there and the capacity is there, it's going
to be some time before we start to get that feedback from the people.

DAVIES: You know, many journalists have gone to Iraq and reported citizens
saying they don't understand how the most powerful nation in the world can't
keep the lights on, and if they are angry at the United States for its
failures to provide their needs, I guess that only feed the insurgency which
makes the security situation worse and harder to achieve the fruits of the
projects that have been built.

Ms. CRUZ: That certainly is the case, and it's something that reconstruction
managers think of every day when they're out there and they're trying to come
up with solutions that will result in actual progress, visible progress that
will be seen and enjoyed by the residents that are there, whose lives we've
tried to make better, but who, for a variety of reasons, are not seeing the
results of the programs. Part of the reason, again, is a lot of times the
larger, more ambitious projects that we invested in have not yet born the
fruit because that last mile, that power distribution line, it's that water
distribution line, it's that last critical mile that needs to occur before
people will begin to see the fruits of the investment, and in a lot of cases,
we've talked to Iraqi engineers and people on the streets who make that
comparison. They say, after the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein and the
ministries were able to jerry-rig everything and get the services back, and
that's true, because they didn't try to improve everything. They just tried
to put it together with chewing gum and rubber bands, and they got it running

In the case of the US reconstruction effort, rather than taking that approach,
the approach was taken, `Since we've got $21 billion, let's modernize the
whole system. Let's bring Iraq into the 21st century.'

DAVIES: It sounds like you need 10 million for chewing gum and rubber bands.

Ms. CRUZ: In some cases Iraqis say why didn't we do that? There's a couple
of engineers who say perhaps the correct strategy would have been to bring
Iraq back to where it was prior to the war, literally just take the old
systems that they had and switch out the boards and use the old equipment and
get it just barely running, and then give them the capability to begin on a
road towards improvement. But I think that's part of what America tries to
do, and in a lot of cases, again, the potential is there. It's just a
question of harnessing that potential, getting the security situation to where
these resources and these infrastructure pieces can actually start to produce
what they were designed to produce, and once they're able to do that, I've no
doubt that there will be a huge improvement in the lives of the Iraqis. But
until we can get through this patch, until the security situation is fixed and
until the capacity of the ministries is in place, we won't be able to see

DAVIES: Well, Ginger Cruz, thank you so much for spending some time with us.

Ms. CRUZ: Thank you, Dave.

DAVIES: Ginger Cruz is deputy instructor general for Iraq reconstruction.

Coming up, David Edelstein on the new Oliver Stone film, "World Trade Center."
This is FRESH AIR.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Film critic David Edelstein reviews Oliver Stone's new
film, "World Trade Center"
DAVE DAVIES, guest host:

Oliver Stone's new film "World Trade Center" opens tomorrow. Nicolas Cage
stars as a Port Authority cop trapped in the rubble. Critic David Edelstein
says the film raises a lot of questions about how we grieve.

Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: It's been fascinating to watch Hollywood transform the
events of September 11, 2001, into the stuff of commercial thrillers. How
gingerly the filmmakers of "United 93" and the new "World Trade Center" went
about their work. How exhaustively they interviewed participants and family
members of those who died. Labored to mitigate the sensationalism of their
subject matter and purged all traces of politics, especially geopolitics from
the stories they set out to recount. And how telling that they reshape 9/11
around narratives of old-fashioned American courage.

Earlier this year, some critics charged that Paul Greengrass' "United 93" was
essentially a conventional Hollywood rah-rah hero movie in documentary
clothing, an odd criticism given that those heroes weren't conventionally
introduced--we never even knew their names--and rather unconventionally
perished. Oliver Stone's "World Trade Center," although closely based on
facts, does resemble the hero-worshiping films of the past. It's beautifully
made. Audiences will gasp and weep. I did. But it's also a film with a very
Hollywood kind of tunnel vision.

The movie is misnamed. The focus isn't the World Trade Center as a whole, but
two real-life Port Authority police officers, John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno,
played by Nicolas Cage and the superb Michael Pena, one of the stars of last
year's "Crash." They're part of a team that goes into Tower One to rescue
trapped inhabitants. In the first floor concourse, McLoughlin improvises. He
can't even confirm that the second tower has been hit, and he can't imagine
the smaller explosions and groans of steel he hears are harbingers of the
collapse to come.

(Soundbite from "World Trade Center")

Mr. NICOLAS CAGE: (As John McLoughlin) Grab those bottles.

Unidentified Dispatcher: (Unintelligible)

Mr. CAGE: (As McLoughlin) Get the helmets.

Dispatcher: (Unintelligible)

Unidentified TV Announcer: We're getting a TV picture of numerous injuries,
numerous injuries...(unintelligible).

Mr. CAGE: (As McLoughlin) OK. Turn them on. Double check. Test them.
Massey? Anything more here. Helmets? Scot packs?

MASSEY: No, Sarge. Try the E Room near the truck docks in the basement.
Jimmy Lynch...

(Soundbite of explosions)

Mr. CAGE: (As McLoughlin) Thanks. OK. There's more stuff down on B1, the
truck docks. We'll drop down to concourse, go around one to two, and there's
some stairs there. Keep your eyes open, follow me, don't get separated. OK.

Unidentified Man #1: Sarge, we got plenty here.

Mr. CAGE: (As McLoughlin) One hundred and ten floors. Fire and fuel. We're
going to be using up bottles. We need them.

(Soundbite of movement, clanking equipment)

Unidentified Man #2: Sarge. You won't believe this. The suburban on Church.
It's gone. Roof's smashed in.

Dispatcher: (Unintelligible) have about 50 people

Mr. CAGE: (As McLoughlin) Stay together and stay focused.

(Soundbite of siren)

Unidentified Man #3: So, Don, where we going?

DON: Sarge wants more stuff.

Man #3: What?

DON: Don't worry about it. He knows what he's doing.

(Soundbite of explosions)

Man #3: What the...

Mr. CAGE: (As McLoughlin) (Unintelligible)...keep moving.

RODRIGUEZ: (Unintelligible). We've got to get up there.

Mr. CAGE: (As McLoughlin) You aren't rescuing anybody if you can't breathe,
Rodriguez. Stay focused.

(Soundbite of sirens)

(End of soundbite)

Mr. EDELSTEIN: The opening makes you think World Trade Center might be a
"Towering Inferno" kind of disaster picture, but Stone backs off from
spectacle. There's no carnage on display. We don't see the planes hit, only
a shadow over the Port Authority. The collapse of both towers is experienced
from inside, a massive boom and lethal shower of steel and concrete. For most
of the film, we're with McLoughlin and Jimeno as they lie pinned under slabs
waiting for help, talking about their wives and children and anything they can
think of to keep from passing out.

That's when Stone cuts to their spouses. Maria Bello, as Donna McLoughlin,
and Maggie Gyllenhaal, as the very pregnant Alison Jimeno, both nearly going
mad as they hold out for word of their husbands. Bello's escalating anger is
deeply affecting, and Gyllenhaal uses her natural spaciness to suggest the way
a pregnant woman in that situation might be half-in and half-out of her body.

I'm not sure why I found those scenes so out of place. Maybe it's because
these two women are so unrepresentative of the tens of thousands of loved ones
who feared the worst and the worst is what there was. This is a hopeful true
story. But viewing September 11 through this prism felt to me like a
Hollywood fantasy.

A lot of people didn't want the lefty conspiracy-mongering Stone to get his
paws on September 11, but "World Trade Center" isn't remotely a conspiracy
film. As someone tired of his amphetamine-style filmmaking, I appreciated
Stone's self-effacement, along with the normally self-consciously weird
Nicolas Cage's self-effacement, too. And Stone can be a great director. He
views that terrible day with the heightened clarity of grief. The cops and
firemen in the early scenes already seem like ghosts.

"World Trade Center" raises two questions: Is reframing September 11 in terms
of individual stories of valor a necessary stage in our collective healing, or
is it a denial of the deeper and more lasting horror of that day? Or is it

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.

(Soundbite of music)


DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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