These monthly briefings started in May 2003, so the current briefing completes the first four years of the series. The emphasis has been on three main areas - the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the status and development of the al-Qaida movement, although the analyses have also sought to examine some more broadly based global issues such as socio-economic divisions and environmental constraints. Given the four-year collection of briefings it seems appropriate to draw a comparison with the current circumstances relating to two of the main areas of focus, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the situation as it was in early 2003.
In May 2003, President Bush gave his "mission accomplished" speech on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, wearing combat gear and having landed on the carrier in a Navy jet. Although the tenor of the speech was one of victory achieved, there were already signs of an insurgency developing. An estimated 3,000 civilians had been killed in the first three weeks of the war (although this figure was subsequently revised upwards) there were major problems of unexploded ordnance, especially cluster bomb sub-munitions, and there was rampant looting in the absence of any control of public order. What was of particular concern was that the US forces were hopelessly inadequate in terms of numbers to take control of the disorder and criminality, and most of the US troops had little or no training in such tasks, being focussed on combat roles.
At the same time, there were clear programmes being formulated for long-term US influence in Iraq as the Coalition Provisional Authority was established and plans were laid for the development of several large US military bases in strategically significant locations. There was to be little of no involvement of the United Nations in post-conflict reconstruction or aid for the development of political institutions - instead, US companies would oversee reconstruction, with Iraqi oil wealth being the main source of funding. It was also clear that the Iraqi economy would be developed in a very strongly orientated free market mode, with wholesale privatisation of state assets. One of the clearest indicators of this policy was the decision to appoint Dan Amstutz, a former senior executive of the world's biggest grain exporter, Cargill, to oversee the transformation of Iraqi agriculture. As the then Policy Director of Oxfam, Kevin Watkins, put it at the time: "Putting Dan Amstutz in charge of agricultural reconstruction is like putting Saddam Hussein in charge of a human rights commission".