News your connection to The Boston Globe

Imperative in Iraq

WITH THE transfer of political authority in Iraq to an interim government, resistance against foreign occupation has been replaced by two superimposed internal conflicts. One is a campaign by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's transitional government to crush Islamist extremists, both foreign and local. The other is a many-sided power struggle in which unreformed Ba'athists, Islamists, and others are fighting to decide who will rule the future Iraq.

Allawi has a nasty background as a Ba'athist and a CIA informant, but the popularity he enjoys as a result of his crackdown on terrorism and crime underlines Iraqis' longing for an end to violence and insecurity. They want their children to be able to leave home without fear of being kidnapped. They want reassurance that Ba'athist killers will not seize power again. And they want leaders who are able to rid them of suicide bombers who blow up Iraqis.

It is crucial that the Ba'athists and the apocalyptic Islamists lose the struggle for power. Because so much is at stake in this contest, particularly for the peoples in surrounding Arab and Muslim countries, it would be heartening if the United States could play a positive role in helping to achieve pluralism, democracy, and the rule of law in Iraq.

Sad to say, however, the Bush administration has made so many errors of omission and commission, first in its prewar planning and then in its pitiful postwar efforts at nation-building, that the soundest prescription for American policy from now on ought to be the doctor's dictum that says: First, do no harm.

Many of the problems of terrorism and guerrilla violence Allawi confronts are the legacy of the Bush administration's ineptitude. A recent report on British intelligence cites a warning from British sources issued in February 2003, a month before the war, that "senior Al Qaeda associate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has established sleeper cells in Baghdad, to be activated during a US occupation of the city. These cells apparently intend to attack US targets using car bombs and other weapons."

The administration's inability to act upon this and similar alerts is an inexcusable failure to make proper use of intelligence.

Consequently, US policy can only be to step back and support Allawi when he asks for assistance. His police forces are already receiving more and better information about terrorists and criminals. For now, his creation of a General Security Directorate to penetrate and destroy terrorist cells is an unavoidable necessity and is supported ardently by Iraqis, as is his plan for a state of emergency. It is unfortunate that Allawi's martial law regime is needed to make possible the transition to an elected government in a democratic Iraq, but that is the price Iraqis have to pay for the blunders of President Bush and his inept administration. 

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months