Mon, Nov 10, 2003 - Page 9 News List

What comes next for Iraq?

Six months after US President W. George Bush declared an end to `major hostilities' in Iraq, the conflict continues and the country remains in turmoil. Resistance to the occupation is growing. Experts from several countries were asked if there is a solution, and if so, what it is?

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

ILLUSTRATION: MOUNTAIN PEOPLE

Improving security, establishing a stable government and reviving the Iraqi economy are the three key steps to resolving the crisis in Iraq.

One, security:

The facts speak for themselves. More than 260 coalition troops have died in Iraq since May 1. Suicide and roadside bombings continue and international organizations have been pulling out. All our experts agreed that the Americans had got it wrong. How to put it right was where they differed.

For Danielle Pletka, of the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute, improved security was a matter of being tougher. The US should "stop acting as a weak power, because that is what is giving encouragement to the terrorists," she urged.

"We could stop driving around in Humvees without actually arresting anybody," she said. "We could arrest a lot of people, including all of the Baathists, the mukhabarat [secret police] and senior military who are floating around freely in Iraq. We could stop releasing people after we arrest them, often within 24 hours."

Closing Iraq's borders effectively, to prevent infiltration from neighboring countries, she added, was half the battle.

"We could make clear to the governments that are allowing infiltrators through that the consequences to them will be extraordinarily unpleasant if it continues," she said.

Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution in Washington was also relatively sanguine and suggested the difficulties might be short-term.

"This is going to be ugly for a while, but it's not that bad," he said. "There are tactical adjustments to the way we use helicopters, for example. But the organizations fighting us have pretty much exhausted their creative talents ... I still think it's going passably well."

While these sentiments may strike a chord with the Bush administration, many on our panel were eager for the US to pull out as soon as possible -- though there was a range of views on how and when that should happen.

American troops in Iraq provided a potent target, said Toby Dodge of Warwick University.

"There has to be the introduction of troops who will not be shot -- and that means the United Nations," he said.

Baathist remnants would continue to shoot at UN forces but the Islamist/Fallujah element might be persuaded not to. The resistance is fighting in the name of liberation "and if you had Pakistani, Indian or Sri Lankan troops, that would cut out the occupation argument,"he said.

French expert Guillaume Parmentier disagreed.

"It is the responsibility of the occupying powers to ensure law and order; it is not the duty of the United Nations," he said.

Bernhard May of the German Council for Foreign Relations believed US and British forces would now have to stay the course.

"If they get out too soon the situation will get worse. In the mid-term the solution would be to replace some of their forces with other forces. The problem is from where? You can't replace American troops with soldiers from Bangladesh, Egypt and Malaysia. They are not well equipped or properly trained," May said.

Reducing Americans on the streets and replacing them with Iraqis would be one alternative, according to Gary Samore of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"The plan is for the Americans to withdraw into fortified bases and run specific, targeted, raids from them, just as they have done in Afghanistan," he said. "Security on the ground would thus be in the hands of regional political figures."

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