UI grad fears U.S. may lose focus in Iraq

CHAMPAIGN - The money has been promised for rebuilding Iraq. But a Champaign man's experience with Afghanistan makes him nervous about follow-through.

Arshia Javaherian, a University of Illinois graduate taking classes at Chicago's Kent Law School, volunteered to work for the Afghan Reconstruction Development Center, a coalition of Washington and business leaders, in part because his heritage is in that part of the world.

Javaherian, 28, came to this country from Iran in 1979. He speaks Farsi, the modern form of Persian, and speaks unaccented English.

He said he spends 10 to 12 hours a week contacting legislators about the need to maintain funding for reconstruction.

?So far I haven't had a lot of feedback,? he says.

The Washington-based organization argues that attention to Afghanistan has been redirected almost entirely to Iraq.

And if history repeats itself, Javaherian suggests, governments could get distracted from rebuilding Iraq when the next crisis arises.

?Reconstruction in Iraq will have an easier time than in Afghanistan. It is not as devastated as Afghanistan, with 30 years of civil war. But the problem should not be underestimated,? he said.

Exact dollar figures have not yet been released for the reconstruction of Iraq. The Bush administration is billing it as the most ambitious U.S. rebuilding project since the aftermath of World War II.

Iraq may end up paying a large share of the costs with its oil, but most of the money now is coming from the United States, with help from several European Union nations, Japan, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Javaherian said.

His experience as a volunteer leads him to wonder how well Iraq will fare in the long haul.

?The big promise of money didn't show up in Afghanistan,? he said Tuesday.

The World Bank estimated reconstruction cost of $15 billion over 10 years in Afghanistan.

?The original funding came to $8 billion, $5 billion of that in the first year. What actually arrived was $1.8 billion in the first year,? he said.

By comparison, the Defense Department estimated the cost of the first month of Operation Enduring Freedom was $1.5 billion. The supplemental appropriation for emergency expenses after Sept. 11 was $40 billion. The airline industry bailout was $15 billion.

?I think we can learn from Afghanistan and do a little better in Iraq,? Javaherian said.

The nonprofit agency's executive director, Tim Probst, said that planning for war should involve planning for peace.

?There is a new face of warfare in the 21st century, and America has not yet adapted,? Probst said.

?In these wars, military victory is only partial victory. Complete success depends on the creation of healthy, modern societies during the post-war construction. So we need to have reconstruction funding that is as fast-acting and comprehensive as our military activities.?

Javaherian said he might be visiting Iraq as part of his work, but right now he spends four days a week in Chicago for law school. He has a wife, Anne, and a son, Samuel.

You can reach Paul Wood at (217) 351-5203 or via e-mail at pwood@news-gazette.com.

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