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Rebuilding Iraq


Challenges seen shaping world order, US course

By John Donnelly, Globe Staff, 04/10/2003

WASHINGTON -- The dramatic fall of central Baghdad yesterday may seal the fate of President Saddam Hussein's regime, but it leaves open the question of whether this fight will ultimately bring more benefits than harm to the United States.

The issues in play in a postwar Iraq will help shape the future of the world order, strategists believe, and help determine whether the United States will push ahead on a unilateral path to solve crises, or whether a meaningful coalition of countries will develop. The outcome depends in part on whether the United States will make a commitment of years to help Iraq remain secure and rebuild.

And if the rest of Iraq collapses quickly, it will also be critical to rapidly assist humanitarian efforts, a challenge that may prove beyond the military's capability.

"The really hard part in this effort starts now," said Mara E. Rudman, who was deputy national security adviser in the Clinton administration. "What is the American commitment of staying in Iraq -- not just to humanitarian assistance, but reconstruction and long-term military presence? There was a feeling in Afghanistan that we did it halfheartedly, but we can't afford to do that here."

The reason, she said, is that how the United States handles Iraq will directly impact its strained relations with Russia and many European governments, as well as influence the widespread anti-American sentiment in the Arab world.

As a result of the US-Iraq conflict, every political transaction in the weeks and months ahead will require extensive deal-making.

The Americans want help in paying for at least some of the cost of the war and the reconstruction of Iraq, which together are projected to cost $75 billion. The Europeans and Russians want to secure contracts and to have a say in the future of Iraq in return for pitching in.

Arab leaders want the Bush administration to pressure Israel to stick to a new "road map" for peace with the Palestinians; the Americans will want Arab governments to publicly back an interim Iraqi government.

But complicating the diplomacy is the immediate horizon in Iraq. The aftermath of the fighting could mean a period of lawlessness, chaos, and unmet expectations from the Iraqi people, analysts said. While almost all Iraqis will cheer the end of Hussein's brutal reign, they will be unsure and wary about the foreign troops who threw him out.

In the coming months, much will depend on the behavior of US and British forces.

While US television played over and over the images of the Hussein statue falling and the cheering crowds that presented American troops as liberators, Arab television also gave prominent display to Marines briefly wrapping an American flag around the statue's face -- something an occupier might do.

"It's not over," said Jay C. Farrar, a former senior military official and now an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. "It's going to be seen as a military victory, but it can't be seen as a political victory yet -- not with so much of the world opposing the war."

To be sure, there was a flood of joy in Baghdad yesterday, from crowds dancing in the streets to those stomping on the torso of a crumpled 20-foot statue of Hussein.

From an undisclosed location inside Iraq, speaking over a barely audible satellite phone, Hatem Mukhlis, one of the leaders of the Iraqi opposition whose father was executed by Hussein, became emotional.

"I'm thinking about my dad, I'm thinking about all the people killed by Saddam, and I feel so proud to do something about it," Mukhlis said. "And here we are today, we are catching the fruit."

Catching the fruit, though, won't be so easy. Neither is it so simple to gauge the direction of the Bush administration.

Senior US officials, to a much greater degree than the Clinton administration, are split into two groups, one unilateralist and the other multilateralist, with daily tugs of war determining outcomes.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, asked in an interview yesterday about who will have final say in Iraq's reconstruction, said, "Clearly we need to indicate that we're not unilateralists, that we do desire to work in concert with other like-minded nations and that we understand this is a process where one nation doesn't get the entire say."

But other powerful forces in the administration have repeatedly said that the United States should retain ultimate say on most matters.

One test will be the composition of the interim Iraqi government and whether the United Nations will play a major role.

"The key to this whole process is to legitimize the success of the new Iraqi regime," said Mark J. Tavlarides, an international consultant at Van Scoyoc Associates in Washington and a former National Security Council official in the Clinton administration. "US policy will focus on getting the Arab world to legitimize that regime, and once that happens, a lot will fall into place."

Several other short-term problems confront them: finishing the fight in Baghdad and the north; finding Hussein, his two sons, and other regime leaders; searching for weapons of mass destruction; and keeping Turkey on the sidelines.

Anger runs high throughout the Arab world on the number of civilian casual ties in the war, and if humanitarian supplies are delayed and lead to more casual ties, anti-US fervor could once again erupt, disrupting the political deal-making, analysts said.

In Amman, Jordan, Melanie Zipperer, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization, said her agency was urgently negotiating with private companies to drive medical supplies to hospitals in Baghdad.

"It's critical, especially in the hospitals, if you think about the number of casual ties and the electricity and water outages," she said. "How can you do a surgery without strong enough anesthetics and when you have to carry water from one floor to the other, and use candlelight to do operations?"

At the State Department yesterday, Armitage expressed optimism about security in Iraq, saying "the fractious behavior that you witnessed in Basra, and to some extent in Baghdad, will settle down."

Farrar, the former US military official, wasn't so sanguine.

"The military does not have time right now to provide security to aid convoys," he said.

"The hard stuff on the side of fighting is just getting started. When you are fighting, you can kill the guy," Farrar added. "When you get lawlessness and looters, you can't do anything to them. And people in Iraq aren't policing themselves."

John Donnelly can be reached at

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