Fri, Jul 02, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Bush's future hinges on Iraq

The handover of Iraqi sovereignty by the allied forces to the interim Iraqi government is a new milestone for the Bush administration.

The US government is still in control in Iraq, but the transfer gives rise to a new opportunity for the US to change the tide there as well as holding important implications for US President George W. Bush's upcoming re-election campaign.

While the handover is certainly the right thing to do, the future of Iraq and its people remains uncertain at this point. The biggest accomplishment of the Bush administration in Iraq is in bringing down Saddam Hussein's regime and his subsequent arrest. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that after the handover, Saddam will be tried by the Iraqi people -- the real victims of Saddam's ruthless reign -- through the new interim Iraqi government.

It would be an intolerable insult to the Iraqi people if Saddam was to be tried by a foreign government such as the US. As for whether the Bush administration can one day take credit for installing lasting democratic rule in Iraq, it remains to be seen.

Many people continue to doubt the ability of the interim government to remain in power with the backdrop of continuing chaos in Iraq. In fact, on the first day after the handover on Monday, nine people, including three US soldiers and six Iraqis, lost their lives as a result of attacks by insurgents.

Moreover, it remains doubtful whether the troops of the interim government are capable of maintaining law and order and fighting insurgents against such a backdrop. Not only are they inadequately trained and equipped, the rate of dessertion in these troops is as high as 80 percent. Yet, if the interim government continues to rely almost entirely on US troops to keep order, the significance of the handover of sovereignty will be highly reduced -- not to mention that many will probably begin to wonder if the handover simply serves as a smoke screen for continued US occupation.

Under the circumstances, the fact that UN peacekeeping troops will be stepping in to help the situation is a step in the right direction. On the other hand, it is also undeniable that Bush has suffered grave injuries in terms of popular support, in particular voter support, over the past 14 months of US occupation. Most damaging to Bush is the fact that weapons of mass destruction have not been found in Iraq, which weakens the legitimacy and justification of the war and the occupation.

Gruesome retaliation by terrorist groups in Iraq, including the kidnapping and decapitation of foreign hostages -- as well as the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal -- have not only shocked the entire world but also generated serious skepticism about whether too great a price was paid to bring down Saddam's regime. Even US government reports have conceded that the goal of reducing the number of terrorist attacks has largely failed in post-Saddam Iraq.

Whether this was the intended impact of the war -- which will also probably determine Bush's place in the history -- remains to be seen. Under the circumstances, the handover of sovereignty on Monday has focused world attention (as well as US voters) on the future prospects for the reconstruction of Iraqi and away from all the negative events over the past few months.

The results of the power transfer may well reinforce the legitimacy of bringing down Saddam's regime. As for what kind of impact the handover will have on the US presidential election, only time will tell.

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