Minutes later President Bush made a television broadcast in which he announced that the US and its allies had gone to war. ‘On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war,’ said Bush. ‘These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign. A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict.’

As MEED went to press – some seven hours after the attacks on Iraq began – details were still emerging of the scope and scale of the opening salvos. Military resources were reporting that 36 cruise missiles and an undisclosed number of F-117 stealth fighters had been used to strike at ‘targets of opportunity’.

Early reports indicated that the focus of the strikes was on five members of the Iraqi leadership and that Saddam Hussein himself, and his sons Uday and Qusay, were among the key targets. As MEED went to press, it was unclear as to whether the strikes had been successful.

More clear was the bitter reality for the people of Iraq that the full-scale war was still to begin. The Pentagon has been careful to sketch out its intended battle plan over recent months. Taking its title, ‘Shock and Awe’, from the writings of Sun Tzu, the flagged main campaign is expected to open with a massive aerial bombardment of Iraq’s military/political infrastructure. Hundreds of cruise missiles will be fired and thousands of tonnes of ordnance will be delivered by air in a short period of time. The aim is the destruction of the Iraqi military’s ability and willingness to defend itself and the regime of Saddam Hussein.

A multi-front land strike is expected to follow fast. Some 300,000 troops – mainly US and British – have amassed on Iraq’s borders. Reports on 19 March indicated that allied troops had advanced through the demilitarised zone on the Kuwait-Iraq border and were in a state of ‘high readiness’ for an advance into Iraq.

The last words of the UN weapons inspectors’ chief spokesman before the team was evacuated on 17 March remain poignant: ‘All we can do now is wish the people of Iraq, ‘Good Luck’.’

What faces them is death, displacement and the destruction of their country’s infrastructure. And the process had already started before the first missiles crashed into Baghdad. With Bush’s ultimatum giving Saddam 48 hours to leave the country issued at 01:00 GMT on 18 March, the decision was taken by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to withdraw all UN officials from Iraq. One of the most immediate results was the suspension of the UN oil-for-food programme, which has for five years been the main source of sustenance for some 16 million Iraqis. UN officials say already-distributed supplies will run out in four to six weeks.

It is impossible to predict the course of war, the extent of civilian casualties or the damage that will be done. However, with the conflict under way, the possibility of a humanitarian crisis is real and the need for a reconstruction programme is immediate. As MEED reported extensively in its 14 March edition, the UN is likely to have an important role to play.

However, as in all other aspects of the war against Iraq, the US administration will control the agenda in the peace. It has drawn up detailed plans for the reconstruction programme, issued requests for proposals (RFPs) to US companies and already awarded some of the key contracts.

Bypassing the political minefields of forming a new administration in a post-Saddam Iraq, US State Department documents obtained by MEED outline plans for a free market economy, governed through a devolved – possibly federal – democratic political system; MEED exclusively printed the US Agency for International Development (USAID) ‘Vision for post-conflict Iraq’ document on 14 March. The plans also lay down an ambitious schedule for the rehabilitation of Iraq’s infrastructure.

The scale of the task cannot be overstated. Irrespective of war damage, Iraq’s infrastructure is already in a poor state. Its hospitals are understaffed and starved of even the most basic medical equipment. The power and water sectors have been degraded to the point of frequent blackouts and the need for water to be delivered by truck. Its main port, Umm Qasr, is badly silted up and littered with shipwrecks. And the rail and road networks – unlikely to survive a conflict – have fallen into disrepair.

The 100-page RFP document sent to selected US contractors maps out the key phases in the planned rehabilitation process. It is vague about the existing condition of Iraq’s infrastructure but, as a USAID procurement official told MEED: ‘The extent of the work depends on the damage done.’ More importantly the document sets out what the US administration wants to do.

The reconstruction contract is expected to be awarded to one ‘programme manager'(though the possibility the contract could be divided between more than one contractor has not been ruled out) that will then subcontract out much of the work. The RFP sets out key targets and deadlines for the reconstruction (see box). The immediate focus falls on establishing water services, health facilities, power and transport networks to provide immediate humanitarian relief, and to ensure supply lines are kept open for reconstruction workers and materials.

USAID expects much of this work to begin as soon as the US forces have made an area safe. It is therefore likely that many of the priority contracts, such as the dredging of the port of Umm Qasr and the provision of 500 generator sets to ensure immediate power supply, are already in place.

At the same time the main contractor will embark on several detailed studies to assess the condition, future demand and repair needs for the country’s civil infrastructure. These studies will then be developed into detailed programmes of work with cost estimates to be approved by USAID.

After six months the contractor must have completed half the programme of reconstruction. The entire programme must be complete by 12 months.

Water supply in southern Iraq is a clear post-conflict priority, as is the opening of ‘gateways’ into Iraq in order to allow the flow of relief and reconstruction materials and personnel. These gateways will be two international airports and three domestic airports, yet to be identified by USAID, and Umm Qasr port. Within 12 months of the cessation of hostilities, USAID aims to have 12 functioning berths at Umm Qasr and two fully-functioning international airports.

In the electricity sector, temporary generator sets will be used initially to power hospitals and water services. In the transportation sector, the immediate aim is to repair enough bridges, roads and railways to keep a supply of food, fuel and other relief and reconstruction materials and personnel.

Water supply is another priority. The programme aims to have 45 urban water systems and wastewater systems in 10 urban centres restored within a year. USAID anticipates that disruptions to electric supply, as well as damage to supply and distribution systems, will severely compromise the integrity of piped water systems. Trucked and bottled water supply is also likely to be hit by damage to transportation routes and supply sources. An immediate priority will be re-establishing distribution of potable water.

The scale of the reconstruction programme is daunting. All the more because it has to be implemented so quickly in a complex and uncertain political and socio-economic environment.

But it is only a fraction of the story. USAID entirely ignores the task of refurbishing the oil and gas industrial infrastructure that lies at the heart of the Iraqi economy, or what remains of it when the war has finished. n