Challenge for US lies in stitching Iraq back together after war

Jan 27, 2003 01:00 AM

The military outcome of a US blitz to oust Saddam Hussein may prove overwhelming and relatively quick, but the true measure of Washington's long-term success likely will depend on how it copes with the delicate task of stitching Iraq back together.
As American-led forces take control of Iraqi cities and towns, soldiers could immediately encounter people begging for water, food, medical care and shelter -- all of which will likely be scarce after battles and air raids. Perhaps more challenging would be the retribution killings expected to sweep the country, settling scores after Saddam's brutal 33-year rule.

"The system of law and order will break down.... There will be no police force, no justice system, no civil service and no accountability. In this confusion, people will be inclined to take justice into their own hands," Rend Rahim Francke, the Iraqi-born executive director of the Washington-based Iraqi Foundation, said in congressional testimony. A retired US Army colonel who is an expert at cleaning up after wars echoed those fears.
"This is a society that has been brutalized.... Keeping it on track is going to be very, very difficult," said Scott Feil, who directs a study of the military's role in post-conflict reconstruction for the Association of the United States Army. Saddam's rule has been responsible for countless political killings -- leaving aside the gassing murders of whole Kurdish communities.

Saddam's cohorts in the ruling Baath Party, who have controlled daily life down to the neighbourhood level in Iraq's cities, would be the first targets for revenge. Francke also expects the humanitarian apparatus to break down, and Feil predicted that once the war is over it could cost the United States $ 100 bn and take as long as seven years to ensure Iraq's security and reconstruction.
"It will be extraordinarily difficult and will dwarf what we did in the Balkans," Feil told, referring to the major US role in peacekeeping missions in the former Yugoslavia and the bombing campaigns to halt aggression by former leader Slobodan Milosevic. "And we have got to have, as No. 1 priority, control over weapons of mass destruction," he said.

He figured it would cost the United States $ 16 bn for the first year's post-war security operation and $ 1 bn for reconstruction. "Some people think my numbers are low," he said, adding that he believed the US military would need 75,000 soldiers on the ground in Iraq after a war, for the first year at least.
"This commitment will put a significant strain on the US military's ability to fight elsewhere at the same time," Feil said. Former two-star Army Gen. William Nash concurred, saying that it partly explained why the military is "less than fully enthusiastic" about taking on the job.

The US military would in the short run have to take on the role of government and public works department -- keeping the sewers working, the water flowing, the schools open, and the Iraqi military in their barracks except to do public works and police chores. As an example of the scale of the task, the UN oil-for-food program has 46,000 food distribution points that would need staffing to keep the Iraqi people fed.
The program allows Iraq to export oil and use the revenue to import necessities for its population -- an international attempt to ease the pain of the people of Iraq, who have been under UN sanctions since Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, triggering the Gulf War. Oil could be a key to Iraq's reconstruction, bringing in as much as $ 30 bn a year within a decade of Saddam's ouster, according to figures provided by Ellen Laipson, president and CEO of the Washington-based Henry L. Stimson Centre.

But Feil cautioned that production may be slow to increase since the Iraqi oil industry is held together with "bailing wire" because of the UN sanctions. Even though sanctions are leaky, the country has had difficulty finding spare parts for the oil industry -- let alone importing the latest technology. Further, other oil producing nations will pressure a post-Saddam Iraq to limit production to keep prices high.
"Some people say all you have to do is open the spigots in the oil fields and there's your reconstruction money. But it's not that simple. At best the technology in the oil industry is 20 years old," Feil said. Nash, who is on the Council on Foreign Relations, said the hardest task would be policing the country. "You go from being very smart to near blindness," said Nash.

He explained the military would operate with superlative intelligence on the battlefield, then find itself with virtually none when dealing with political and criminal elements inside the country. Nash said the military also was concerned about becoming bogged down in Iraq, leaving fewer resources for the larger US-led war on terrorism. Therefore he expected the military to try to hand the post-Saddam administration over to the United Nations as quickly as possible.
Costly as post-war security and reconstruction might be, the fight itself will be a budget-breakeras well. The Gulf War cost about $ 61 bn by some estimates, but the United States was mostly reimbursed by allies such as Saudi Arabia and Japan. The coalition going into this fight would be thinner.

Source: AP Online
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