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  1. #1

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    December 21, 2003

    TRAPS AHEAD

    Iraq and Its Patron, Growing Apart

    By ROGER COHEN

    BAGHDAD — FROM the roof of a former state-owned cigarette factory, known to the American troops now based here as "Camp Marlboro," the view of one poor and mainly Shiite section is broad: a seething spectacle of dust and fumes, minarets and women shrouded in black, low-slung homes and skittering garbage. In the foreground are soccer fields, built by the occupying United States forces, and on one of them a young Iraqi boy, watched by scrawny dogs, turned cartwheels of a striking perfection.

    Gazing out at Sadr City, home to two million people, Maj. George Sarabia assessed the scene. "This is a center of gravity," he said, "because I guess this is still a war here. You have one-third of Baghdad before us and if it goes bad, we have a big problem. Some do not want this to work. They benefit from calamity. But our goal is to stand the Iraqis up, stand up their government, make the place safe and provide an example to the region. We're here not to occupy but to liberate."

    That mission was given an important boost last weekend with the capture of Saddam Hussein. Even before that, the boy wheeling in the dust certainly looked liberated, enjoying the soccer field, albeit for an unintended purpose. But more often these days Iraq seems freighted with sullen misgiving as attempts to bridge the distance between Major Sarabia's rooftop exposition of the American mission and Iraqis' street-level experience of the drudgery and danger of the occupation clash.

    Mr. Hussein's capture will ease some deep-rooted Iraqi fears, remove a specter and perhaps disorient the insurgency for a time. A remade Iraq in a remade Middle East no longer has an implacable enemy in hiding.

    But in some ways the capture is as much about the past as the future. Will joy and relief at the former dictator's detention quickly be overtaken by resentment of his American captors - the providers of new sports facilities, schools and freedom itself, but also the occupiers of a disoriented land?

    The American occupation of Iraq has entered a race against time. Liberation is all very well, Iraqis have discovered, but the groceries still have to be acquired, the bills paid, the gas bought at the pump. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, East Germans took to remarking that they had dreamed of paradise but awoken in North Rhine-Westphalia. Iraqis - Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites - have sharply divided dreams, and they have awakened where they slept for more than three decades: in the same bad neighborhood.

    The race, put simply, is to bridge the gulf between the American high ground and the Iraqi morass, between the roof and the road, before Iraqis take over the governing of their country a little more than six months from now. Unlike the American presence in Bosnia, or indeed any other recent American military intervention, the undertaking in Iraq is as much about imposing or inspiring a foreign idea - Western democracy in the Middle East - as it is about keeping the peace or changing the guard. For the ideas to take hold, walls must fall away.

    But today, Iraq often appears to be a study in estrangement: between the leafy, traffic-free green zone from which the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority governs, and the streets jammed outside; between the sullen Iraqis lining up overnight to buy scarce gasoline, and the nervous American soldiers rumbling by in their Humvees; between American ideas - earnestly expressed, passionately held - of representative government, and the reality of staggering out from under terror into a jobless marketplace.

    The violence and insecurity have accentuated these chasms by making mingling dangerous. This has been perhaps the most unsettling achievement of anti-American fighters in Iraq.

    L. Paul Bremer III, the top civilian administrator in Iraq, is acutely aware of the challenge. In his office in the Republican Palace of Mr. Hussein, just before the former leader's capture, Mr. Bremer said: "We are going to be very aggressive with our information campaign. We want televised debates, town-hall meetings, focus-group meetings, meetings all across the country for people to sit down and talk about what Iraq they want, what democracy means, what does separation of power mean. You know, the kinds of things that are sort of standard, and they're so much part of our culture it's difficult to distance yourself from it. It's the kind of things you do in high-school civics classes. It all needs to happen here. It's never happened here, and it needs to happen rather quickly."

    An affecting and self-deprecating determination is evident in Mr. Bremer, who concedes the enormity of his task but refuses to be bowed by the paralyzing notion - one that has confronted many a colonial administrator - that the locals are not yet ready for democracy. Still, even the embryo of Jeffersonian democracy is hard to discern in Iraq today, not least in classrooms where the very word "civics" has no meaning.

    Azhar Ramadan, a woman and a journalist chafing under the strictures of Iraqi society, should, at least in theory, be a supporter of American-led Westernization. But she is hesitant, preyed on by all that her country has lived through. She wanted to take part in a recent demonstration against terrorism, but her husband and brothers convinced her that this was inappropriate for a woman, and dangerous.

    "I feel humiliated but also afraid," she said. "You know, my son is in fourth grade. He was learning a phrase from his grammar book the other night. It said: 'We have to fight America. America and Zionism are the enemies of the Iraqi people.' " Ms. Ramadan was shocked. She told her son to ask the teacher if he should still be learning that phrase. The reply the next day was sharp: he should, because America and Zionism remain Iraq's enemies. So, did Ms. Ramadan complain to the teacher herself?

    "I am afraid to," she replied. "The teacher could give a hard time to my son." But there was something else, something deeper, more subtle. She had been told from childhood not to like America, not to support the Zionists, and had found only one reason in her life to love the United States: the ousting of Saddam Hussein. "So you see, I don't hate the Americans now," she said. "But they gave me so many unfulfilled promises."

    Is that what haunts so many looks and glances in Iraq today, a place where waves or smiles at Westerners have become rare? Disappointment at the perception of broken American promises? Or is the message in those often almost expressionless gazes starker: What, they sometimes seem to say, are you doing in my country?

    ON a recent Saturday, angry Iraqis gathered at the entrance to the Green Zone, an extended Western fortress on the Tigris River. They were former employees of Mr. Hussein's infamous Information Ministry and they wanted employment, or compensation, or something. "We have families, we have children," said one of them, Abdullah Khalil.

    A tense American soldier watched the crowd and radioed a message that quickly produced a rifle-clutching platoon. "O.K.," said the soldier, "Now I'm going to push out these. . . .'' Expletives followed, the targets of said expletives were repelled, and - so it seemed - the distances and misunderstandings between occupier and occupied grew.

    In an office not far from Mr. Bremer's, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of allied troops in Iraq, weighs how to bridge those gaps. A central goal, as he puts it, is to minimize the alienation. He believes that fight is being won. "Every time I go out, I ask soldiers if any of them believe we are not winning," he said. "No, they all believe we are winning, making a huge difference. Will there be fluctuations in violence? Absolutely. But the majority of the country has made unbelievable progress."

    Measured in many ways, this is true. But the majority of the country is also waiting and watching, wary and weary.

    In Najaf, the southern Shiite stronghold, the ayatollahs play a careful tactical game, insisting chiefly on "representative government" in the knowledge that a vote should deliver Shiite rule because most citizens are Shiite. If that does not happen, such quiet calculation could quickly turn to explosive rage.

    In the north, the Kurds, having lived separately through the last years of Mr. Hussein's rule, in their own American-protected enclave, now calculate how best to exploit a new presence in Baghdad. They are practical; they also dream. "We are in Iraq, but we have a dream," said Shakhawan Edrees, a Kurdish journalist in Baghdad. "I would love that a Kurdish flag fly over Kurdistan, and I hope that the new constitution will allow the right of secession."

    The capture of Mr. Hussein offers the prospect of healing justice to myriad families. But the battle to hold Iraq together remains as complex as removing the coils of barbed wire between the green zone of Mr. Bremer and the rest of Baghdad.

    "We're not trying to offload Texas here," said Sgt. Eric Kurzyniec, a soldier at Camp Marlboro with a passionate belief in what he is doing. "We want them to do it their way." Asked what his mission is, he thought for a moment and added: "We're just trying to get them to evolve, to open their eyes. That's the mission."

    A big winter sun hung in the dun-colored sky, calls to prayer echoed across Sadr City, Iraqis clamored outside the base for jobs, and the boy cartwheeled on, free at last, not old enough yet to measure just how free or for how long.


    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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    January 13, 2004

    THE TRANSITION

    Bush Team Revising Plans for Granting Self-Rule to Iraqis

    By STEVEN R. WEISMAN

    WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 — The Bush administration, seeking to overcome new resistance on the political and security fronts in Iraq, is revising its proposed process for handing over power to an interim Iraqi government by June 30, administration officials said Monday.

    Officials held a round of urgent meetings in Washington and Baghdad in the wake of the rejection on Sunday by a powerful Shiite religious leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, of the administration's complex plans to hold caucuses around the country to select an interim legislature and executive in a newly self-governing Iraq. Officials say they are responding to the cleric's objections with a new plan that will open the caucuses to more people and make their inner workings more transparent.

    Administration officials also expressed concern about a separate part of Ayatollah Sistani's statement on Sunday that demanded that any agreement for American-led forces to remain in Iraq be approved by directly elected representatives.

    Those twin setbacks raise questions about who would have to reach an agreement with the United States that would allow more than 100,000 American troops to remain in the country after power is handed over to the Iraqis this summer.

    The administration has not yet begun negotiating such an agreement with its handpicked Iraqi authorities. Such negotiations — in which the American military is expected to ask for wide latitude in its counterinsurgency efforts — could be much tougher if they have to be carried out with Iraqis who are directly elected.

    Administration officials acknowledged Monday evening that the remarks opposing the caucus plan from Ayatollah Sistani were a clear rebuff that would not be easy to overcome. The ayatollah, in a decree issued Sunday, said members of the interim legislature must be chosen through direct elections. Administration officials had been trying to convince him that such elections were impractical, but did not succeed.

    "We're pushing ahead with this process and trying to deal with Ayatollah's concerns," said a top administration official. "We're looking at the same process we have, but trying to make it as open, inclusive and democratic as possible."

    Under an agreement reached between the American-led occupation and the Iraqi Governing Council, a body of Iraqis handpicked by the occupation authorities, an elaborate set of caucuses were mapped out in each of Iraq's 18 provinces, which are known as governorates.

    Each caucus was to have an organizing committee chosen by members of the Iraqi Governing Council in Baghdad and by others in each of the governorates. The system was so elaborate and complex that some American occupation officials said it was difficult even for them to figure out.

    Now that Ayatollah Sistani has rejected the system as not democratic enough, administration officials said they were intensifying efforts in all of Iraq's governorates and in cities and towns to hold local meetings to select delegates to the caucuses.

    The new hope in Washington, the officials said, was in effect to make the caucus system look more democratic without changing it in a fundamental way.

    The administration continues to assert that elections cannot be held in time for the deadline of June 30, the target date for handing sovereignty over to a new Iraqi interim government. There are no census rolls, voter registration records or other means to certify a democratic vote, they say.

    In addition, the security situation, especially in the Sunni Muslim heartland in the center of Iraq, is not yet strong enough for an election to be held, American officials say.

    There were signs on Monday that the administration was taken aback by the ayatollah's comments on Sunday. For weeks, administration officials had been saying the American occupation leader, L. Paul Bremer III, would be able to persuade the ayatollah to change his mind.

    Some officials noted that their negotiations with Ayatollah Sistani have been hampered because the ayatollah will not talk directly with Mr. Bremer, and so the Americans have had to use multiple emissaries to communicate with him.

    The ayatollah is a revered religious figure among Shiite Muslims, who make up more than 60 percent of Iraq's population. He is also regarded as a political moderate, but his refusal to meet with Mr. Bremer or any other American occupation figures was testimony to his not wanting to recognize the legitimacy of the American occupation.

    A top administration official said recently that various emissaries had conveyed messages to and from Mr. Bremer and Ayatollah Sistani, but that probably only about two-thirds of the messages got through at any one time. Signals were confusing and contradictory, at least in American eyes.

    When Ayatollah Sistani suggested that perhaps a neutral authority could certify that the elections were impractical, as American authorities had insisted, the administration seized on the idea that Secretary General Kofi Annan of the United Nations could fill the bill.

    Last week, Mr. Annan passed a message to a group of Iraqi leaders at the United Nations. The message was addressed to Adnan Pachachi, the current chairman of the Iraqi Governing Council and a former Iraqi foreign minister who has been leading the negotiations with the ayatollah.

    According to people familiar with the letter, Mr. Annan said in it that "while it might not be possible to have elections in the time available, nevertheless it was essential to have a process that was fully inclusive and transparent."

    The Annan letter was transmitted to Ayatollah Sistani by Mr. Pachachi, inspiring hope in the administration that it would prove persuasive, administration officials said. The ayatollah's rebuff was thus seen in Washington as a major jolt that forced a rethinking of American plans.

    Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, was among a small number of lawmakers involved in intelligence briefings on Monday, and he said Monday evening that he did not see how the administration had a choice in the matter.

    "Sistani probably isn't going to change his mind, so we're going to have to somehow change our caucus approach or modify it," Senator Rockefeller said. "I think that's going to be very hard to pull off by June 30."

    Mr. Rockefeller also urged the administration to consider postponing the target date for transferring power to Iraqis, but administration officials said that was not under review.

    The negotiations with the ayatollah and the plans for expanding the caucus process were proceeding even as an impasse remained on another aspect of the occupation.

    In that impasse, the American occupation continues to try to persuade Kurdish leaders to back off their insistence on one unified Kurdish state comprising three of the governorates and possibly additional territory, including some oil fields.

    Kurds, equally adamantly, are demanding that the United States back off its own position. Some Kurdish leaders are threatening to pull Kurdish members off the Iraqi Governing Council, an American official said. Such a move would be embarrassing to the United States, which chose the council members last summer.

    Many in the administration expect an accommodation to be made with the Kurds. Indeed, they say that so many Iraqis expect such an accommodation that the likelihood that the United States would bow to Kurdish demands is probably what emboldened Ayatollah Sistani to take his hard line over the weekend.


    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    http://www.washingtonpost.com/
    Editorial

    In Search of Rescue

    Sunday, January 18, 2004

    WITH ITS STRATEGY for Iraq on the verge of unraveling, the Bush administration has belatedly embraced an idea it should have accepted long ago: that a political transition conducted by the United Nations is more likely to be accepted by Iraqis than one imposed unilaterally by the United States. On Monday U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer and the head of the Iraqi Governing Council will meet with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to ask for stronger U.N. backing for the U.S. plan to turn over sovereignty in June to an Iraqi government chosen through regional caucuses. The hope is that Mr. Annan can help overcome the objections of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shiite leader who has been demanding direct democratic elections. It seems unlikely, however, that the Bush administration will rescue its transition without yielding to more changes in its plans.

    We have long favored the internationalization of Iraq's postwar management. But it may be too late for the U.N. bailout the Bush administration now appears to seek. Mr. Annan is reluctant to put his organization at the service of a predetermined U.S. strategy, and one letter from the secretary general has already failed to change the mind of Mr. Sistani. If Mr. Annan's continuing concerns about security can be satisfied, the organization may prove valuable in helping Iraqis write a constitution and prepare for elections in the coming months and years. But with or without the United Nations, the Bush administration and its Iraqi allies will have to come to terms with Mr. Sistani, whose tenacity in advancing his agenda they have repeatedly underestimated.

    The public exchanges between the occupation authority in Baghdad and the Najaf-based cleric have tended to obscure the real issues. In consistently demanding elections, Mr. Sistani seeks to ensure that Iraq quickly comes under the governance of the Shiite majority -- and that the clergy is consulted when key decisions are made about Iraq's future. Mr. Sistani is widely described as favoring the separation of governmental and religious power, but he has also said that Iraq's future laws should not contradict Islamic law. It's unclear whether or for how long he's prepared to accept a U.S. military presence in Iraq -- but he has said that any deployment agreement must be reached with a new government, not the current Governing Council.

    Mr. Bremer has answered that it would be impossible to organize and conduct general elections in time for the scheduled June transfer of power, but the United States -- like Mr. Sistani -- is also weighing issues of control. The indirect caucus procedure favored by the administration and the Governing Council would maximize their chances of preserving influence. Mr. Bremer said Friday that the administration would consider changes to its selection plan, but not the timetable -- a stance that seemed to limit the possibilities for compromise.

    All the options in Iraq come with considerable risks. But it seems to us the greatest of these would attach to a decision by the United States to press ahead in choosing a government over the opposition of the Shiite clergy. An Iraqi administration led by followers of Mr. Sistani might prove less amenable to cooperation with Washington, and might alienate the Iraqi Sunni and Kurdish populations. The United States must continue to insist that any government that takes power commit itself to democracy and respect for religious and ethnic minorities and human rights. But a democratically chosen government would at least have a genuine popular mandate and thus a better chance of stabilizing the country. If a democratic choice by Iraqis would produce leaders closer to Mr. Sistani than to the Iraqi Governing Council, then the Bush administration would do better to let such leaders emerge now and to begin looking for ways to work with them.



    © 2004 The Washington Post Company

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    where are the Somozas, Pinochets and Noriegas when you need them?

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    We just can't seem to locate a trustworthy, compliant, middle-east despot.

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    January 25, 2004

    Iraq's Path Hinges on Words of Enigmatic Cleric

    By EDWARD WONG

    NAJAF, Iraq, Jan. 24 — An austere home in a dusty alleyway here has become a center of power rivaling the American occupation headquarters in Baghdad — and the scene of fierce inner struggles for one man's ear.

    Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a reclusive 73-year-old cleric revered by many of Iraq's 15 million Shiites, hears arguments and requests here from the country's most senior politicians, occasionally issuing decrees through them that thwart the plans of the world's sole superpower.

    Donkey carts trundle through the mouth of the narrow alleyway, but bodyguards keep most visitors out. On Saturday morning, two dozen men in brown robes pleaded to be allowed to seek the cleric's spiritual advice. Only two emissaries from a Baghdad mosque were allowed in.

    The ayatollah's secular power is clear: his insistence on direct elections for a transitional national assembly before Iraqi sovereignty in June drew up to 100,000 supporters to Baghdad's streets on Monday and left the Bush administration scrambling to salvage plans for a caucus-style selection.

    Yet this man has not stepped out of his house in six years, rarely gives interviews and is often described as wanting to stay out of politics.

    He has a Web site, sistani.org, but it focuses on religious guidance, like whether Islamic law allows the eating of Caspian sturgeon. (Only if close inspection reveals scales, he counsels.)

    The world now simply comes to him. The ayatollah's house has become as important a pilgrimage site for Iraq's leaders as the nearby golden-domed shrine of Ali, son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad, is for the world's Shiites.

    The men who visit say they deliver their opinions on the American-led occupation; they are clearly vying for the cleric's backing in the current political free-for-all, with many factions jockeying for a share in the as-yet unshaped Iraqi government. Any endorsement from Ayatollah Sistani instantly bestows legitimacy in the eyes of many Shiites; his support can win votes for politicians and will weigh heavily on further plans for installing an interim government.

    The full motives of the men advising Ayatollah Sistani are known only to them, yet they are some of the cleric's main conduits to and from the outside, passing on his messages and bringing him their versions of the latest developments.

    That makes them the only tea leaves to read, however murkily, to divine the ayatollah's intentions. They range from formerly exiled Iraqi politicians to local imams to envoys of L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Perhaps to distance himself from the day-to-day fray of politics, and to remain on a level above the occupation forces, he has refused to meet with Mr. Bremer himself.

    It is inevitable that those closest to Ayatollah Sistani are Shiite Islamists, many of whom can win popular support by getting his backing. Last week, Ibrahim al-Jafari, a Governing Council member and the current head of the venerable Dawa Islamic Party, visited to discuss the stalemate over direct elections. Other frequent visitors include officials from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a political party recently returned from exile in Iran that clearly wants to play a role in governing the new Iraq.

    Adnan Pachachi, the current head of the Governing Council, said he was skeptical of some of the men surrounding Ayatollah Sistani. Mr. Pachachi met with the ayatollah two weeks ago to ask him to back down from his demands for direct elections, only to be rebuffed. Some of the ayatollah's advisers, Mr. Pachachi said in an interview, wanted to keep personal power "under the guise of protecting Shiite influence" and "want to use religion in order to assume power."

    Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a senior Dawa official in the 1980's who now professes to be relatively secular, meets with the ayatollah once or twice a week and has his own view of the cleric's decision making.

    "The major thing in his mind is not to hand over the country to an American-picked government," Mr. Rubaie said. "The fear is that the coalition forces will impose a group of Western-influenced politicians, fanatic liberals who will design the future of Iraq irrespective of the culture and religion of the country."

    The ayatollah sometimes delivers his messages through political leaders, but more often through religious representatives, as he did Friday when he asked a spokesman to tell worshipers at a mosque in Karbala to refrain from protests against the Americans. The people should hold off, the spokesman said, while the United Nations is deciding whether to send a team to assess the feasibility of direct elections.

    Associates say Ayatollah Sistani does not want to be so politically involved and that he simply sees it as his duty as a marja-al-taqlid, or senior cleric with the authority to interpret Islamic law, to ensure that Iraq has an Islamic identity. They say he is keenly aware that the Shiites, who make up 60 percent of the population, for centuries were kept from ruling under the Ottoman and British Empires and the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab.

    That is not to say that he wants a complete intertwining of the state and Shiite Islam, as in Iran. Though the ayatollah was born in the holy Iranian city of Mashad and began studying the Koran there at age 5, he spent his early 20's in Najaf, where he became the protιgι of the late Grand Ayatollah Abu al-Qassim al-Khoei.

    Ayatollah Khoei was a proponent of the "quietist" school of Islamic thought, which advocates a withdrawal from politics, unlike the activist school promoted by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran and put into practice there after the revolution of 1979.

    Ayatollah Sistani, Mr. Rubaie said, "always says something like this: `I did not find election in the jurisprudence books. I did not go into the Koran and the prophetic tradition to derive the idea of elections. I derived the idea from a textbook on democracy.' "

    Befitting a spiritual leader, the ayatollah, through his representatives, interacts regularly with the other three grand ayatollahs in Najaf. Muhammad Hussein al-Hakim, the son and spokesman of Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Said al-Hakim, said people from his organization and that of Ayatollah Sistani consult often. All the ayatollahs have voiced support for Ayatollah Sistani's demands for direct elections, though none have issued similar edicts.

    Some Iraqis have wondered whether Ayatollah Sistani's political involvement is an attempt to stave off a power play by a young rival to the older clerics, Moktada al-Sadr, who has also begun calling for direct elections. His father, the respected cleric Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, was killed by Saddam Hussein's government in 1999. Mr. Sadr is now trying to use his father's name — and brash anti-American rhetoric — to leverage himself into a position of authority.

    But his organization has only a fraction of the popular support and financial resources of the ayatollah's group, which has amassed a fortune through the Shiite tradition of donations.

    "I know Mr. Sistani, and I'm sure he's not acting out of personal interest," Mr. Hakim said. "The most important thing for the marjaiah is to act in the general interest of the people. Maybe others just can't grasp this concept."

    Last November, Ayatollah Sistani made it clear he wanted direct elections for a transitional assembly by delivering the message through Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Mr. Hakim is one of the politicians closest to the ayatollah and acts as an intermediary between the cleric, the Governing Council and the Coalition Provisional Authority.

    Mr. Hakim's deputies meet often with Ayatollah Sistani, including Imam Jalaladeen al-Sagheir of the Baratha Mosque in Baghdad. At a recent interview with two reporters, the imam took an urgent phone call from one of Mr. Bremer's aides. "I have to go to Karbala and Najaf to take care of that issue," he said quickly before hanging up, indicating perhaps that Mr. Bremer wanted him to talk to the ayatollah.

    Two weeks ago, a major battle for the cleric's ear was joined, when it fell to Mr. Pachachi, of the Governing Council, to lead a delegation to discuss the issue of direct elections. Mr. Rubaie, who accompanied the delegation, said the ayatollah sat on the floor of his home opposite them, wearing his customary black turban and black robes. Mr. Pachachi tried explaining that there was not enough time to organize direct elections by the June 30 deadline. He produced a letter from Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, saying as much.

    "That didn't cut the ice with him," Mr. Rubaie said. "He had already been convinced that elections were possible."

    That had come about, Mr. Rubaie said, because the ayatollah had absorbed the opinions of Iraqi census experts, the minister of trade and a senior United Nations envoy acting unofficially, all of whom had made it known to the cleric that direct elections were feasible.

    If American officials end up compromising too easily with Ayatollah Sistani, though, that could quickly alienate Sunni Arabs and Kurds, who fear being marginalized in a Shiite-dominated government. Those groups make up 40 percent of the population, and that is where Ayatollah Sistani's influence ends. Their loyalties lie with their own leaders.


    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    March 18, 2004

    Car Bomb at Baghdad Hotel Leaves at Least 27 Dead

    By JOHN F. BURNS

    BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 17 — A huge car bomb destroyed the five-story Mount Lebanon Hotel in central Baghdad on Wednesday evening, tearing the facade off the building and sending residents tumbling into the street.

    At least 27 people were killed and 41 wounded.

    The explosion reduced an apartment block across the road to a tangle of steel, masonry and shattered furniture, and it left an inferno of blazing cars and buildings that lighted the night sky for hours.

    Iraqi rescue teams clawed at the rubble with hands and shovels deep into the night, but no survivors were pulled clear after the first frenzied hours. At least some victims appeared to be foreigners, mainly from Arab countries, including, the police said, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.

    The bombing was among the worst to be carried out in Iraq during the American occupation. It came less than 36 hours before the anniversary of the first American bombing raid on Baghdad at dawn on March 19 last year, a raid that signaled the start of the war to topple Saddam Hussein.

    Survivors of Wednesday's bombing said Americans and Britons and other Europeans were among those staying at the hotel, which has traditionally attracted visiting Arab business people and, among Westerners, people on modest budgets working for relief agencies. But in the pandemonium at the scene and at neighboring hospitals in the hours after the blast, no clear picture emerged about the nationalities of the non-Iraqis who were killed or injured.

    American officers who had cautioned that pro-Hussein insurgents and militant Islamic terrorists might try to mark the anniversary of the start of the war with a new round of attacks were quick to point a finger at a Jordanian-born terrorist leader, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi.

    Col. Ralph Baker, commander of the Second Brigade, First Armored Division, who led American troops who raced to the scene in armored Humvees, said the blast appeared to have been caused by a car bomb with at least 1,000 pounds of plastic explosives that had been combined with a core of wired-together artillery shells. He said attackers here had used the formula frequently to cause a maximum blast and a widespread curtain of deadly shrapnel.

    [The Associated Press reported Thursday that at least two American soldiers were killed and six wounded in Balad, near Baghdad, in a mortar attack on the logistics base there on Wednesday. The military did not identify the soldiers involved.]

    Doctors at four Baghdad hospitals visited by reporters said the death toll could rise because of burn and crush injuries among survivors, some of whom lay groaning in poorly equipped emergency rooms while doctors attended more urgent cases.

    Hospital entranceways and wards were a bedlam of wailing relatives, agitated Iraqi policemen with automatic rifles pushing back crowds, and gurneys and stretchers being rushed past, carrying bodies under bloodied blankets and black shrouds.

    The attack ranked, in numbers of dead, with the bombings last year of the Baghdad headquarters of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, which killed a total of almost 40 people. The worst single attack in the capital, two weeks ago, killed more than 80 people when three suicide bombers detonated themselves at a religious festival in Baghdad, simultaneously with similar attacks in nearby Karbala, which killed another 120 people.

    Colonel Baker told reporters that the blast was "similar to that carried out in the past by Ansar al-Islam and the Zarqawi network." No specific evidence was offered implicating Mr. Zarqawi.

    American intelligence has linked Mr. Zarqawi to Ansar al-Islam, a group linked to Al Qaeda. Last month American intelligence agencies named him as the author of an intercepted message urging Qaeda leaders to support efforts by Islamic militants to provoke a civil war among Shiite and Sunni Muslims here, in hope of blocking plans for a Western-style democracy.

    A $10 million American bounty has been placed on Mr. Zarqawi's head as the prime suspect in devastating bombings across Iraq in the past few months, including the United Nations and Red Cross attacks. American commanders, dismissing reports that Mr. Zarqawi has fled to Iran, said recently that they believed he was still in Iraq and active in planning new attacks.

    Many of the wounded here Wednesday had long waits for attention in the ill-lighted hospitals, which have begun — with American financing — to recover from years of neglect and from the looting and sabotage that followed the American capture of Baghdad. But the hospitals still lack much in the way of basic equipment and medicines. Iraqi doctors said many of the most critically injured had suffered head injuries, and would be operated on overnight.

    At the bombing scene, in Karada, a busy commercial district, a gaping crater marked the spot where the bomb had detonated. Iraqi police officers said the bomb might have been carried in an orange-painted car, left a tangled wreck, that was thrown 150 feet clear.

    American officials said later that the crater's position, in the center of the narrow street, combined with what they described as the hotel's lack of strategic significance, was read by American investigators as a sign that the bomb might have been detonated accidentally while en route to another target.

    For the Americans, the bombing marked an inauspicious start to a new military offensive in Baghdad.. Hours before the blast, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for the American command, said at a news briefing that in the new phase of the counteroffensive, the strikes, based on new intelligence, would give "a clear warning to the enemies of the Iraqi people," meaning the terrorists, that theirs was ultimately a doomed cause.

    With no statement claiming responsibility for the blast, the motives were unknown. But the timing, close to the anniversary of the American invasion, and on the night marked for the new offensive, suggested that the attack might have been intended to taunt the Americans.

    As well, by striking at another Iraqi target, the attackers might have been seeking to deepen the sense among Iraqis that they have substituted years of repression and fear under Mr. Hussein for a new era of fear, this time of terrorists, and that the American occupiers, who came as self-proclaimed liberators, are now at the root of Iraq's woes.

    In any case, the grim tableau at the bomb scene stood as a ghastly anniversary marker. The blast, throwing first a blue flash and then a spreading cloud of smoke and fire above the rooftops, took place about three-quarters of a mile from the Palestine and Sheraton hotels, which are heavily guarded by bomb-proofed blast walls and American tanks and are the headquarters for many Western news organizations.

    Arriving at the scene within minutes, reporters who evaded a cordon of volatile Iraqi policemen waving guns at the gathering crowd saw black-silhouetted rescue workers combing through the burning wreckage. From ambulances arriving helter-skelter, loudspeakers boomed out a mournful appeal for people to concentrate on survivors, not the limp and broken bodies of the dead.

    Colonel Baker, the American commander, watched American soldiers who had been on standby earlier in the evening for strikes against the terrorists working, instead, to save terrorism's latest victims.

    But as it became clearer that no more survivors were likely to be found, the Americans pulled back and left the television cameras to broadcast live images across the world of Iraqi police and firefighters doing the work themselves.

    The mood among Iraqis varied widely, reflecting the deeper splits here between those who credit the Americans as liberators and others who regard them as a new evil. Qahcan Shukur, owner of a furniture factory, was across the road when the explosion detonated, and was hit by shards of flying glass. He turned his wrath on the Americans.

    "Why don't Americans maintain security?" he said. "All of this technology they have, and they cannot prevent these attacks? I don't believe it."

    A block away, another group took a different view. After watching a weeping man rushing toward an ambulance, cradling the limp body of his small daughter, Zaki Mohammad, 41, an electrical engineer, halted a reporter and asked that a message be passed to L. Paul Bremer III, chief of the American occupation authority. "Tell Bremer to hang the people responsible for this in a park in the center of Baghdad," he cried. "The American policy here is tolerance, tolerance, tolerance, soft, soft, soft. This is not the way. The way is execution."


    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  8. #8

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    March 21, 2004

    Bremer Pushes Iraq on Difficult Path to Self-Rule

    By DEXTER FILKINS

    BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 20 — For L. Paul Bremer III, the chief American administrator here, the contradictions of Iraq seemed to crystallize in a single moment this month.

    In a hastily called public appearance, Mr. Bremer, 62, stood at a podium, grim and ashen-faced, to denounce a horrific wave of attacks that had killed more than 150 Iraqi civilians this month on one of the highest Shiite holidays.

    That same day, Iraqi leaders canceled a ceremony to commemorate Mr. Bremer's most significant achievement to date: the completion of an interim constitution intended to chart the country's path to democratic rule.

    But instead of bestowing accolades on Iraqi leaders, Mr. Bremer could offer only condolences to the dead.

    "Tuesday showed the dark vision of the evildoers," he said, his voice shaking with anger. "They fight to ward off harmony and are happy to pave the road to power with the corpses of their innocent victims."

    With that, he walked off the stage.

    In the 10 months since Mr. Bremer became the American-appointed proconsul of Iraq, much of his tenure has been like that: full of impressive achievements, clouded by the restless, divided nature of the country he is trying to oversee. Despite a widely admired work ethic, he has made a number of decisions that have been widely criticized and which appear to have undermined the very enterprise he is trying to move forward.

    His early decision to disband Saddam Hussein's army, critics charge, created ready recruits for the insurgency and fueled resentment among Iraqis who fault the Americans for failing to protect them. Despite warnings of dissatisfaction with the American plan for the transfer, he failed to anticipate the political assertiveness of Iraq's Shiite majority.

    Ultimately, criticism of his decisions will matter little if the new Iraqi state stands on its own after sovereignty is restored on July 1. The democratic institutions Mr. Bremer has helped create are sure to be tested in the months ahead, when American officials believe terrorists are planning major strikes against American and Iraqi targets.

    Since May, Mr. Bremer has guided a multibillion-dollar reconstruction campaign that has restored many of the public facilities, like telephone lines and electrical grids, that had been stripped bare by looting that engulfed the country after the Hussein government collapsed. He has put in place a vast security apparatus, some 200,000 Iraqi police officers, soldiers and border guards, intended ultimately to replace more than 100,000 American soldiers trying to crush the guerrilla and terrorist campaigns still roiling the cities and countryside.

    Most ambitious of all, Mr. Bremer has spearheaded the Bush administration's plan to implant a democratic system here, a blueprint that includes nationwide elections, a federal constitution and the rapid transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

    To accomplish that, he and his team have set up more than 250 city councils across the country and are rapidly preparing the central government to take over when the American occupation officially ends on June 30. And that, finally, will be the measure of his success or failure: whether the institutions he has tried to implant here — at the accelerated pace he demanded — sink or float.

    Mr. Bremer, a polished diplomat who does not want for self-assurance, says the desire for democracy he sees in the eyes of Iraqis will prevail over the efforts of those who are trying to destroy it. Success, he says, is much more likely than the nightmare set of events feared by many Iraqis of terrorism and civil war. "I think the chances are very slim," he said of the likelihood of disaster, when he made public remarks on Friday to observe the anniversary of the start of the war. "You can always play `what if.' I just don't think it's going to happen. This country is very different from 12 months ago."

    As the man who replaced Mr. Hussein, Mr. Bremer looms large over this occupied land. He is regarded by many Iraqis as earnest and hard-working, the benevolent despot they never had.

    In January, when the Americans began replacing the old Iraqi currency, known here as "Saddam money," the face of the deposed Iraqi leader was removed from the new notes. Mr. Hussein's face was replaced by a date palm, but Iraqis quickly gave the currency a new name: "Bremer money."

    Some Iraqis ask Mr. Bremer for personal help. Among them is Ali Bressem, a villager who has been searching for a year for a way to help his 12-year-old son. The boy's face was scorched by an American cluster bomb at the start of the war. One day, Mr. Bressem went to a computer shop and had a letter typed.

    "Dear Mr. Bremer," the letter began. "Please accept our gratitude. During the last war of liberating Iraq, my house was exposed to a bombing. What is worse is that my son Ayad was exposed to a very severe injury in his eyes and face. We need help. We have no one to resort to but your excellency."

    Mr. Bressem, a date farmer in the southern town of Kifil, recently took a bus to Baghdad, looking for Mr. Bremer's driver. "If I could find his driver," he said, "he could take my letter to Mr. Bremer." But when he got to the heavily protected area known as the green zone, he said, soldiers shooed him away.

    For Americans in the green zone, the impeccably dressed Mr. Bremer has inspired something of a fad. His one sartorial concession to the war zone is a pair of combat boots, usually worn with a wool blazer, silk tie and white handkerchief. Many American officials now wear combat boots with suits and ties; so, too, when he visits, does Mr. Bremer's boss, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

    Summing up his accomplishments, Mr. Bremer reminds his questioners that he did not create the disaster that befell Baghdad and much of Iraq in the anarchic days that followed the collapse of Mr. Hussein's government. He was merely asked to clean it up.

    "As I drove in from the airport, Baghdad was on fire, literally," Mr. Bremer said. "There was no traffic in the streets. There was not a single policeman on duty anywhere in the country. There was no electricity anywhere in the country. There was no economic activity anywhere."

    When he gazes out on Iraq today, he sees a country where a measure of law and order has been restored, where economic growth has resumed, where the basic elements of a modern society, like electricity and running water and schools, have largely returned to what they were before the war. Oil production, the country's fountain of wealth, has returned to its prewar levels. There is a constitution, finally signed by the Iraqis, that provides for individual rights.

    Iraq is now poised, Mr. Bremer says, to enter a period of rapid growth, development and prosperity. "So when I look at where we have arrived from where started, it is an astonishing record," he said.

    Americans and Iraqis who work closely with him praise his drive and his ability to grapple with the range of Iraq's problems. To many Iraqi leaders, his finest moment came with the completion of the interim constitution, an effort that succeeded in securing the assent of all 25 members of the Iraqi Governing Council and reconciling the desires of Iraq's tapestry of ethnic and religious groups.

    The agreement was reached after days of intricate bargaining, which Iraqi leaders say Mr. Bremer shepherded at almost every step. When the Iraqis hit a snag around midnight on Feb. 29, the deadline they had set for themselves, Mr. Bremer proved decisive in breaking the deadlock. "It was past midnight, but Bremer said no one was going home," said Rozh Shawais, a senior leader in the Kurdish Democratic Party.

    In fact, Mr. Bremer let the Iraqi leaders go home early that morning. They later returned, finally striking a deal at 4:20 the next morning. "Bremer was involved in every detail of the constitution," Mr. Shawais said.

    But while few doubt Mr. Bremer's commitment, some Iraqis say that in his drive to impose his vision on the country, he has sometimes failed to listen and, as a result, has made serious mistakes.

    The most widely criticized of his decisions was one he made before he had even arrived. On the plane to Iraq, he decided to disband the 400,000-man Iraqi Army, which left thousands of trained soldiers unemployed. American officials say many of those former soldiers later formed the backbone of the guerrilla resistance to the occupation.

    Despite the criticism, Mr. Bremer stands by the decision, saying there was no Iraqi army left to deal with anyway. "I don't have any second thoughts about disbanding the army," he said. "Neither did the secretary of defense, and he's my boss."

    Other pitfalls have marked Mr. Bremer's tenure here, many of them turning into political embarrassments. According to administration officials, Mr. Bremer assured officials in Washington last fall that he could persuade Iraqi leaders to accept the presence of Turkish troops in the country.

    Instead, the Iraqis, deeply suspicious of Turkish motives, rebelled, forcing the Bush administration and the Turks to back off.

    Like many Americans and Iraqis, Mr. Bremer also seemed to underestimate the political power of Iraq's Shiite majority, and in particular, of its religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Shiite leaders say they warned Mr. Bremer last fall when he presented them with a plan that called for caucus-style gatherings as the primary means for choosing a national assembly.

    When Mr. Bremer persisted, Ayatollah Sistani declared his opposition and sent thousands of Iraqis into the streets. The caucus plan was abandoned.

    "Bremer has a personality type which is domineering, determined and decisive," said Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a member of the Iraqi Governing Council and a neurologist. "He makes decisions on the run. Nine out of 10 times, he makes the right decision. But the 10th time, he makes the wrong one, and that's the really important issue."

    Many Iraqi leaders have credited Mr. Bremer with helping transform the Governing Council from an unwieldy debating society into a functioning legislature. At the same time, some Iraqis say he has sometimes gone too far, dictating to the Iraqis what they must and must not do.

    In February, with Iraqi leaders nearly finished writing their constitution, Mr. Bremer publicly threatened to veto any attempt to impose Islamic law. The statement enraged Shiite leaders, who say they were so angered by his threat that they inserted stronger terms regarding Islam than they had originally favored.

    "When Mr. Bremer said that, we felt that Islam might be excluded," said Hamed al-Bayati, a senior leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a political party. "So we decided to strengthen the role of Islam."

    What seems certain is that the next few months will be dangerous. American and Iraqi officials are bracing for new waves of suicide attacks, intended to turn the Iraqis against their would-be protectors.

    On a visit to Al Kut, a city southeast of Baghdad, Mr. Bremer found mixed signs. The chairman of the provincial council, Abid Suleman al-Satar, told him that there was not enough time before June 30 to prepare for the transfer. The police were incompetent, Mr. Satar said, and he feared that some local political parties would take advantage of the instability. "We have to have a longer period of time," he told Mr. Bremer. "This is a very short time to ensure that the political process is good."

    Mr. Bremer waved away the warnings. "People are going to have to learn faster," he told Mr. Satar. "Most Iraqis do not want elections to be delayed."

    Later in the day, Mr. Bremer flew by helicopter to inspect an irrigation project financed by the United States. The scene, choreographed by his handlers, nonetheless contained signs that the Iraqi enterprise was gathering a momentum of its own.

    The project, costing $167,000, refurbished or replaced five aging irrigation pumps on the Tigris River. It was the first time in 36 years, said an Iraqi supervisor, that the pumps had operated at full capacity.

    "Thank you, thank you!" cried Hekmet Rasoq, the 64-year-old supervisor, shaking Mr. Bremer's hand. Behind him, a crowd of Iraqis had come of their houses to wave.

    "They should thank you," Mr. Bremer said of the Iraqis. "You're doing all the work."


    Jeffrey Gettleman contributed reporting from Baghdad for this article.


    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    April 5, 2004

    U.S. Announces Warrant for 'Outlaw' Iraqi Cleric's Arrest

    By CHRISTINE HAUSER and KIRK SEMPLE

    BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 5 — American officials confirmed today that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric whose followers launched a coordinated anti-American uprising in several cities over the weekend. The top American official in Iraq labeled him an "outlaw."

    The officials said the warrant had been issued by an Iraqi judge after Mr. Sadr was implicated in the death of Abdul Majid al-Khoei, a rival Shiite cleric who was hacked to death by a mob in April. The officials did not say when they would attempt to serve the warrant or try to detain the cleric.

    "There will be no advance warning," Dan Senor, spokesman for the American occupation authority, said in a televised news conference here. The spokesman suggested that Mr. Sadr's arrest had been postponed because it would be "difficult" and did not directly answer questions seeking to link the announcement of the warrant to the violence over the weekend by Mr. Sadr's supporters.

    The announcement of the warrant came as American troops stepped up military action against the various centers of armed resistance to the occupation, cordoning off the volatile city of Falluja and rolling American tanks and combat vehicles into the impoverished Baghdad slum of Sadr City, the scene of the fiercest fighting over the weekend.

    The militants said they had rioted in response to the arrest of an aide to Mr. Sadr in connection with the murder of Mr. Khoei and to protest the closing of a Baghdad newspaper by American officials.

    President Bush told reporters today in Charlotte, N.C., that he remained committed to the June 30 deadline for transferring power in Iraq in spite of the violence. "The deadline remains firm," Mr. Bush said.

    In Baghdad, the top American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, labeled Mr. Sadr an "outlaw" and said the 31-year-old cleric was trying to replace "legitimate authority," news agencies reported.

    "Effectively, he is attempting to establish his authority in the place of the legitimate authority," Mr. Bremer said, according to The Associated Press. "We will not tolerate this. We will reassert the law and order which the Iraqi people expect.

    Mr. Sadr was defiant in response. "I'm accused by one of the leaders of evil, Bremer, of being an outlaw," he said in a statement read in Kufa, near Najaf, Reuters reported. "If that means breaking the law of the American tyranny and its filthy constitution, I'm proud of that and that is why I'm in revolt."

    Mr. Senor did not fully explain why American and Iraqi authorities had not already tried to detain Mr. Sadr even though an Iraqi judge had issued an arrest warrant "within the last several months." While 12 suspects connected to the Khoei murder case were taken into custody during an initial round of arrests, the spokesman explained, Mr. Sadr was among another group of suspects that is now being pursued.

    "It was more difficult to target some of the other individuals," Mr. Senor said.

    Now, however, the judge is prepared to take the case to trial and has ordered that the remaining suspects be rounded up, Mr. Senor said. "He thought he would take another shot at trying to gather up other individuals involved with the case, and that's when warrants were issued and this matter came — sort of bubbled up, if you will, recently," Mr. Senor said.

    In a statement ussed by the American military headquarters in Iraq, officials said that an eighth American soldier had died from wounds sustained in the uprising, which began on Sunday among militiamen loyal to Mr. Sadr. Dozens of Iraqis and one Salvadoran soldier have also died in the fighting.

    In Falluja, some 1,200 marines and two battalions of Iraqi security forces sealed off the city as part of an operation intended to crush an armed resistance in the city by Sunni Muslims, who were Saddam Hussein's main constituency, news agencies reported. The Associated Press said that explosions and gunfire could be heard coming from the center of the city. An American marine was killed in fighting in the area today, the American military said.

    American commanders have been promising to respond to the killing last Wednesday of four Americans working for a security company who came under attack as they drove through town. A frenzied mob beat and mutilated the men's charred corpses.

    The troops were poised to raid the city in pursuit of suspected insurgents, officials said.

    The Arabic television station Al Jazeera reported today that six Iraqis had been killed in an attack there.

    In Baghdad, American troops patrolled the dusty, garbage-strewn streets of Sadr City, where hospital officials said about two dozen Iraqis had been killed in overnight fighting with American troops. The American military reported today that in addition to the eight soldiers killed, more than two dozen had been wounded in the fighting in the slum.

    According to a list of the Iraqi casualties posted at the Chuwadir Hospital in Sadr City, 18 people had been killed and about 80 were wounded. A hospital official said the number of dead was higher than 22.

    The fighting in Sadr City started late Sunday, when militiamen loyal to Mr. Sadr, the radical cleric, tried to take over police stations in the neighborhood, firing small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, according to the United States military. Iraqi residents said that American troops in tanks opened fire on a demonstration by Sadr supporters.

    News agencies reported that Apache helicopters fired missiles at targets in the Shuala district of northwest Baghdad today, and Al Jazeera reported that five Iraqis were killed in a helicopter strike on an office belonging to Mr. Sadr's supporters.

    Elsewhere, the American military reported today that a marine had been killed in the Anbar province, where Falluja is located, but provided not details. The military also said that two soldiers had been killed by explosive devices in Kirkuk and Mosul in northern Iraq.

    In the southern town of Basra, a large group of Sadr supporters took over the buildings of the American-appointed governor. The police had been warned that the supporters were coming and were advised to leave, but the governor and police were not in the building at the time of predawn takeover, which was described by one man as a peaceful sit-in.

    The violence among the Shiite radicals opens a new front for American-led forces already struggling to contain the Sunni Muslim insurgency centered in Falluja and nearby cities. The fighting also complicates the task of the United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who arrived in Baghdad on Sunday to discuss American plans to pass sovereignty to Iraqis at the end of June.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

    April 5, 2004

    POLICY

    June 30 Goal Is Questioned by 2 Senators

    By FELICITY BARRINGER

    WASHINGTON, April 4 — L. Paul Bremer III, the civilian administrator in Iraq, is scheduled to hold a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill early this week, two senior senators said Sunday. They warned that the June 30 date for transferring sovereignty to the Iraqis might be premature.

    Asked on the ABC News program "This Week" if that date was unrealistic, Richard G. Lugar, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said, "It may be, and I think it's probably time to have that debate."

    Mr. Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, and the committee's ranking Democrat, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, both said they had been advised that Mr. Bremer would brief them and other legislators this week. Mr. Lugar also said he had scheduled three days of hearings, from April 20 to April 22, to explore the details of the transfer.

    The two senators' concerns about the transition date were expressed in telephone interviews and television appearances, Mr. Lugar on "This Week" and Mr. Biden on "Fox News Sunday," that focused on the political and security issues that have bedeviled Mr. Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority, which he directs.

    The issues include the roles of the United States and the ambassador it will send to Iraq, the expected size of the American troop contingent, the role the United Nations may play, the possible introduction of NATO troops and the overriding questions of security in a society studded with armed militias and a relentless anti-American insurgency.

    A White House statement on Sunday afternoon reiterating the June 30 deadline said in part: "The United States and our coalition partners are continuing to work closely with Iraqi leaders and the Iraqi people on our plan to meet the June 30 deadline. The United States will stay in Iraq until the job is done and there is a free, peaceful and democratic Iraq for the Iraqi people."

    In a telephone interview, Mr. Lugar said, "I would just say that we want to get someone in the administration who has responsibility for this to address the security issues" of a transfer in a country racked by an anti-American insurgency.

    "Specifically," he said, "to whom will sovereignty be given? And how secure are these people?" — a reference to the 3,000 people who will serve in a new American Embassy in Baghdad. Neither he nor Mr. Biden knew the exact timing of the briefing by Mr. Bremer.

    In a telephone interview, Mr. Biden said: "We're about to give over authority to an entity that we haven't identified yet, knowing that whatever that entity is, there's going to be overwhelming turmoil between June 30 and January, when there is supposed to be an election. Who is the referee? Who is the graybeard?"

    He added: "I predict to you — I hope I'm wrong — that your colleagues writing about this 10 years from now are going to look at 9/11 and they're going to look at 6/30. This administration, as far as I can tell, is at odds with itself, being pulled apart — one portion saying we're going to keep it under our tent and the other half saying, `Let's give it to the U.N.' "

    Mr. Biden also reiterated his view that NATO troops should be brought in to supplement the dwindling American forces and give a more international face to the military presence in Iraq — which already includes troops from several NATO members, including Britain, Spain and Italy.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

  10. #10

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    April 9, 2004

    ALLIANCES

    Signs That Shiites and Sunnis Are Joining to Fight Americans

    By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN

    BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 8 — When the United States invaded Iraq a year ago, one of its chief concerns was preventing a civil war between Shiite Muslims, who make up a majority in the country, and Sunni Muslims, who held all the power under Saddam Hussein.

    Now the fear is that the growing uprising against the occupation is forging a new and previously unheard of level of cooperation between the two groups — and the common cause is killing Americans.

    "We have orders from our leader to fight as one and to help the Sunnis," said Nimaa Fakir, a 27-year-old teacher and foot soldier in the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia. "We want to increase the fighting, increase the killing and drive the Americans out. To do this, we must combine forces."

    This new Shiite-Sunni partnership was flourishing in Baghdad on Thursday. Convoys of pickup trucks with signature black Shiite flags flapping from their bumpers hauled sacks of grain, flour, sugar and rice into Sunni mosques.

    The food donations were coming from Shiite families, in many cases from people with little to spare. And they were headed to the besieged residents of Falluja, a city that has now become the icon of the resistance, especially after the bombing on Wednesday of a mosque compound there.

    "Sunni, Shia, that doesn't matter anymore," said Sabah Saddam, a 32-year-old government clerk who took the day off to drive one of the supply trucks. "These were artificial distinctions. The people in Falluja are starving. They are Iraqis and they need our help."

    But it is not just relief aid that is flowing into the city.

    According to several militia members, many Shiite fighters are streaming into Falluja to help Sunni insurgents repel a punishing assault by United States marines. Groups of young men with guns are taking buses from Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad to the outskirts of Falluja, and then slipping past checkpoints to join the action. "It's not easy to get in, but we have our ways," said Ahmed Jumar, a 25-year-old professional soccer player who also belongs to a Shiite militia. "Our different battles have turned into one fight, the fight against the Americans."

    American leaders had been concerned that the rival sectarian groups would not find a common cause. Now, it seems, they have found a common enemy. "The danger is we believe there is a linkage that may be occurring at the very lowest levels between the Sunni and the Shia," Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of the occupation forces, said on Thursday. "We have to work very hard to ensure that it remains at the tactical level."

    He also said the call for unity is "clearly an attempt to take advantage of the situation."

    Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling, an assistant commander of the First Armored Division, said military intelligence indicated that there might be some loose coordination between the renegade Shia movement of Moktada al-Sadr and a Sunni extremist group called Mohammed's Army in the western portions of Baghdad.

    He said troops from the First Armored and the First Cavalry Divisions were conducting reconnaissance and offensive operations against fighters from both groups, who have converged on the road to Falluja.

    The city, 35 miles west of Baghdad, has become the rallying cry of the resistance. It is in its fifth day of siege. Marines are trying to root out insurgents after four American security guards were ambushed there last week and their bodies were mutilated by a mob. American troops have been fighting house to house and mosque to mosque against a determined group of guerrillas. According to people inside Falluja, the situation is grim and getting grimmer.

    "It's a disaster," said Sheik Ghazi Al Abid, a wealthy tribal leader, who was reached by telephone. "There's no food, no water, no electricity."

    The sheik said it was so dangerous that bodies have been left on the streets because people are terrified to venture outside to collect them.

    "Anybody who moves will get shot," the sheik said. "We need all the help we can get." He also said more than 300 people had been killed, hundreds more had been wounded, and medical supplies and blood were running low." There are so many injured civilians," the sheik said, "they don't know where to go."

    In Baghdad, blood banks were packed. Imams at both Sunni and Shiite mosques put out a message that Falluja residents needed blood fast. On Thursday, a group of Shiite men formed a line at one Baghdad blood bank that wended out the door. The men were ready to get pricked with a needle for their Sunni brothers. "We share a cause now," said Mohammed Majid, a taxi driver. "Why not share our bodies?"

    Pentagon officials said Thursday that they had no definitive figures on the size or scale of the Sunni or Shiite militias. That is largely because the militia movement seems too fluid, and it is splintered among several factions. "It's a mob mentality," said one intelligence official. "They are recruiting among a lot of unhappy people."

    Shiite extremist groups have a long tradition of hiding their true strength, in large part because their history has been marked by persecution by Sunni elites in many Muslim countries. In southern Lebanon in the 1980's, for example, the Central Intelligence Agency was never able to get solid estimates of the number of Shiite fighters involved in Hezbollah or the Islamic resistance that eventually forced the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, former United States intelligence officials said Thursday.

    Those former officials pointed out that the practice of Taqiyya — dissembling about one's religion, especially in times of danger — is particular to Shiism. That secretive tradition has made Shiite groups extremely difficult for intelligence officers to penetrate, the former C.I.A. officers said.

    Until last week, the Shiite groups had mostly sat out the resistance. Many Sunni fighters were loyal to Mr. Hussein. That alienated Shiites, who had been ruthlessly persecuted by the former Iraqi leader.

    All that changed this week when Mr. Sadr activated his militia at the same time Falluja faced its biggest battle. Now, the two sides have joined. There were even reports on Thursday of armed men from Falluja escaping to Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad. Mr. Hussein is no longer mentioned. Fighting the infidels is.


    James Risen contributed reporting from Washington for this article.

    Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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    Reuters:

    Japan Rejects Iraq Hostage-Takers' Demands
    By Masayuki Kitano and Linda Sieg, Reuters


    TOKYO (April 9) - Facing his toughest political test, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told an anguished Japan on Friday he had no plans to pull troops from Iraq despite a threat by kidnappers there to kill three Japanese civilians.

    Tearful families of the three pleaded for the government to withdraw Japan's non-combat troops from the southern Iraqi city of Samawa, where they have been helping to rebuild the area.

    Thousands of protesters gathered in a Tokyo park, waving rainbow-colored peace flags and holding placards reading, ''Government: Don't murder the three people. Pull out the troops.''

    Some analysts said mishandling of the crisis could bring down the government, a prospect that worried financial markets.

    ''I don't think they can be saved if the government does not consider pulling the troops out. There are only two days left,'' Kyodo news agency quoted the mother of 18-year-old hostage Noriaki Imai as telling a news conference.

    Koizumi, however, said he was not considering withdrawing troops from Samawa, where 550 Japanese soldiers are stationed.

    ''We should not give in to these despicable threats from terrorists,'' he told reporters.

    He added the government was working to confirm the facts and that if the kidnappings were confirmed, the hostages' safety was the top priority.

    Japanese were stunned when a previously unknown group released a video late on Thursday showing what it said were three hostages, blindfolded and with a gun to their heads.

    The group vowed to ''burn them alive'' if Japanese troops did not leave Iraq within three days.

    Koizumi has spent enormous political capital to push through the deployment of about 1,000 military personnel in total to demonstrate that Japan can take a bolder role in global security.

    The mission is Japan's riskiest military operation since World War II and a major shift away from the purely defensive military stance Tokyo adopted after its defeat in the war.

    Japanese Senior Vice Foreign Minister Ichiro Aisawa was set to arrive in Amman on Saturday to gather information, accompanied by a National Police Agency ''Terrorism Response Team.'' Police would give no details about the unit.

    PUBLIC DIVIDED

    The whereabouts of the three -- Imai, who had planned to look into the effects of depleted uranium weapons; aid worker Nahoko Takato, 34; and freelance reporter Soichiro Koriyama, 32 -- was unclear.

    So was the precise deadline, although a ruling coalition official said it was around 9 p.m. (0800 EDT) on April 11.

    Besides the Japanese, seven South Koreans, a Briton, two Palestinians with Israeli identity cards, and a Canadian were reported to have been taken hostage in recent days.

    The Koreans were later freed.

    Vice President Dick Cheney, who arrives in Tokyo on Saturday at the beginning of an Asian tour, is expected to urge Washington's allies in the region to stand firm in their commitment to the U.S.-led mission in Iraq.

    No Japanese soldier has been killed in combat since 1945, and casualties could affect support for Koizumi's government, whose ruling coalition faces Upper House elections in July.

    Japan's public is sharply divided over the dispatch. Critics say it violates Japan's pacifist constitution and resent what they saw as U.S. pressure to put ''boots on the ground'' in Iraq.

    ''As we've said in the past, hasn't this Iraq war contributed to an expansion of terrorism, rather than leading to its prevention?,'' Democratic Party leader Naoto Kan told parliament.

    Organizers said 4,000 demonstrators took part in a rally at Hibiya Park in central Tokyo to call for the troops withdrawal.

    Tokyo residents are worried about a possible attack in the nation's capital, while in Samawa, blasts were reported again on Thursday near the Japanese soldiers' camp.

    There were no reports of casualties or damage but the troops have suspended their reconstruction work outside the camp.

    Financial markets were on edge. ''If the government mishandles the issue, that could bring down the Koizumi cabinet,'' said Yasuo Ueki, a market analyst at consultancy Poko Financial Office.

    The Nikkei share average closed down 1.61 percent at 11,897.51 while the yen was trading at about 106.50 to the dollar after falling as low as 106.78.

    04/09/04 07:50 ET

    Copyright 2004 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. All active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

  12. #12

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    The present state in Iraq reminds me of Tito's Yugoslavia. Although no comparison to Hussein's brutality, the open liberal communism of Tito did not permit nationalistic dissent among the various ethnic groups. The slogan in Yugoslavia was "After Tito - Tito," but no Tito emerged.
    After his death in 1980, the region unravelled and the term ethnic cleansing became popular in commentary.

    I guess no lesson was learned. Who do we hand over power to, Ahmad Chalabi - who reminds me more of a sleasy businessman than a political leader?

  13. #13

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    http://www.washingtonpost.com

    Dissension Grows In Senior Ranks On War Strategy

    U.S. May Be Winning Battles in Iraq But Losing the War, Some Officers Say

    By Thomas E. Ricks

    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, May 9, 2004; Page A01

    Deep divisions are emerging at the top of the U.S. military over the course of the occupation of Iraq, with some senior officers beginning to say that the United States faces the prospect of casualties for years without achieving its goal of establishing a free and democratic Iraq.

    Their major worry is that the United States is prevailing militarily but failing to win the support of the Iraqi people. That view is far from universal, but it is spreading and being voiced publicly for the first time.

    Army Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who spent much of the year in western Iraq, said he believes that at the tactical level at which fighting occurs, the U.S. military is still winning. But when asked whether he believes the United States is losing, he said, "I think strategically, we are."

    Army Col. Paul Hughes, who last year was the first director of strategic planning for the U.S. occupation authority in Baghdad, said he agrees with that view and noted that a pattern of winning battles while losing a war characterized the U.S. failure in Vietnam. "Unless we ensure that we have coherency in our policy, we will lose strategically," he said in an interview Friday.

    "I lost my brother in Vietnam," added Hughes, a veteran Army strategist who is involved in formulating Iraq policy. "I promised myself, when I came on active duty, that I would do everything in my power to prevent that [sort of strategic loss] from happening again. Here I am, 30 years later, thinking we will win every fight and lose the war, because we don't understand the war we're in."

    The emergence of sharp differences over U.S. strategy has set off a debate, a year after the United States ostensibly won a war in Iraq, about how to preserve that victory. The core question is how to end a festering insurrection that has stymied some reconstruction efforts, made many Iraqis feel less safe and created uncertainty about who actually will run the country after the scheduled turnover of sovereignty June 30.

    Inside and outside the armed forces, experts generally argue that the U.S. military should remain there but should change its approach. Some argue for more troops, others for less, but they generally agree on revising the stated U.S. goals to make them less ambitious. They are worried by evidence that the United States is losing ground with the Iraqi public.

    Some officers say the place to begin restructuring U.S. policy is by ousting Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, whom they see as responsible for a series of strategic and tactical blunders over the past year. Several of those interviewed said a profound anger is building within the Army at Rumsfeld and those around him.

    A senior general at the Pentagon said he believes the United States is already on the road to defeat. "It is doubtful we can go on much longer like this," he said. "The American people may not stand for it -- and they should not."

    Asked who was to blame, this general pointed directly at Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz. "I do not believe we had a clearly defined war strategy, end state and exit strategy before we commenced our invasion," he said. "Had someone like Colin Powell been the chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff], he would not have agreed to send troops without a clear exit strategy. The current OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense] refused to listen or adhere to military advice."

    Like several other officers interviewed for this report, this general spoke only on the condition that his name not be used. One reason for this is that some of these officers deal frequently with the senior Pentagon civilian officials they are criticizing, and some remain dependent on top officials to approve their current efforts and future promotions. Also, some say they believe that Rumsfeld and other top civilians punish public dissent. Senior officers frequently cite what they believe was the vindictive treatment of then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric K. Shinseki after he said early in 2003 that the administration was underestimating the number of U.S. troops that would be required to occupy postwar Iraq.

    Wolfowitz, the Pentagon's No. 2 official, said he does not think the United States is losing in Iraq, and said no senior officer has expressed that thought to him, either. "I am sure that there are some out there" who think that, he said in an interview yesterday afternoon.

    "There's no question that we're facing some difficulties," Wolfowitz said. "I don't mean to sound Pollyannaish -- we all know that we're facing a tough problem." But, he said, "I think the course we've set is the right one, which is moving as rapidly as possible to Iraqi self-government and Iraqi self-defense."

    Wolfowitz, who is widely seen as the intellectual architect of the Bush administration's desire to create a free and democratic Iraq that will begin the transformation of the politics of the Middle East, also strongly rejected the idea of scaling back on that aim. "The goal has never been to win the Olympic high jump in democracy," he said. Moving toward democratization in Iraq will take time, he said. Yet, he continued, "I don't think the answer is to find some old Republican Guard generals and have them impose yet another dictatorship in an Arab country."

    The top U.S. commander in the war also said he strongly disagrees with the view that the United States is heading toward defeat in Iraq. "We are not losing, militarily," Army Gen. John Abizaid said in an interview Friday. He said that the U.S. military is winning tactically. But he stopped short of being as positive about the overall trend. Rather, he said, "strategically, I think there are opportunities."

    The prisoner abuse scandal and the continuing car bombings and U.S. casualties "create the image of a military that's not being effective in the counterinsurgency," he said. But in reality, "the truth of the matter is . . . there are some good signals out there."

    Abizaid cited the resumption of economic reconstruction and the political progress made with Sunni Muslims in resolving the standoff around Fallujah, and increasing cooperation from Shiite Muslims in isolating radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. "I'm looking at the situation, and I told the secretary of defense the other day I feel pretty comfortable with where we are," he said.

    Even so, he said, "There's liable to be a lot of fighting in May and June," as the June 30 date for turning over sovereignty to an Iraqi government approaches.

    Commanders on the ground in Iraq seconded that cautiously optimistic view.

    "I am sure that the view from Washington is much worse than it appears on the ground here in Baqubah," said Army Col. Dana J.H. Pittard, commander of a 1st Infantry Division brigade based in that city about 40 miles north of Baghdad. "I do not think that we are losing, but we will lose if we are not careful." He said he is especially worried about maintaining political and economic progress in the provinces after the turnover of power.

    Army Lt. Col. John Kem, a battalion commander in Baghdad, said that the events of the past two months -- first the eruption of a Shiite insurgency, followed by the detainee abuse scandal -- "certainly made things harder," but he said he doubted they would have much effect on the long-term future of Iraq.

    But some say that behind those official positions lies deep concern.

    One Pentagon consultant said that officials with whom he works on Iraq policy continue to put on a happy face publicly, but privately are grim about the situation in Baghdad. When it comes to discussions of the administration's Iraq policy, he said, "It's 'Dead Man Walking.' "

    The worried generals and colonels are simply beginning to say what experts outside the military have been saying for weeks.

    In mid-April, even before the prison detainee scandal, Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, wrote in the New York Review of Books that "patience with foreign occupation is running out, and violent opposition is spreading. Civil war and the breakup of Iraq are more likely outcomes than a successful transition to a pluralistic Western-style democracy." The New York Review of Books is not widely read in the U.S. military, but the article, titled "How to Get Out of Iraq," was carried online and began circulating among some military intellectuals.

    Likewise, Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.), a former Marine who is one of most hawkish Democrats in Congress, said last week: "We cannot prevail in this war as it is going today," and said that the Bush administration should either boost its troop numbers or withdraw.

    Larry Diamond, who until recently was a senior political adviser of the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq, argued that the United States is not losing the war but is in danger of doing so. "I think that we have fallen into a period of real political difficulty where we are no longer clearly winning the peace, and where the prospect of a successful transition to democracy is in doubt.

    "Basically, it's up in the air now," Diamond continued. "That's what is at stake. . . . We can't keep making tactical and strategic mistakes."

    He and others are recommending a series of related revisions to the U.S. approach.

    Like many in the Special Forces, defense consultant Michael Vickers advocates radically trimming the U.S. presence in Iraq, making it much more like the one in Afghanistan, where there are 20,000 troops and almost none in the capital, Kabul. The U.S. military has a small presence in the daily life of Afghans. Basically, it ignores them and focuses its attention on fighting pockets of Taliban and al Qaeda holdouts. Nor has it tried to disarm the militias that control much of the country.

    In addition to trimming the U.S. troop presence, a young Army general said, the United States also should curtail its ambitions in Iraq. "That strategic objective, of a free, democratic, de-Baathified Iraq, is grandiose and unattainable," he said. "It's just a matter of time before we revise downward . . . and abandon these ridiculous objectives."

    Instead, he predicted that if the Bush administration wins reelection, it simply will settle for a stable Iraq, probably run by former Iraqi generals. This is more or less, he said, what the Marines Corps did in Fallujah -- which he described as a glimpse of future U.S. policy.

    Wolfowitz sharply rejected that conclusion about Fallujah. "Let's be clear, Fallujah has always been an outlier since the liberation of Baghdad," he said in the interview. "It's where the trouble began. . . . It really isn't a model for anything for the rest of the country."

    But a senior military intelligence officer experienced in Middle Eastern affairs said he thinks the administration needs to rethink its approach to Iraq and to the region. "The idea that Iraq can be miraculously and quickly turned into a shining example of democracy that will 'transform' the Middle East requires way too much fairy dust and cultural arrogance to believe," he said.

    Finally, some are calling for the United States to stop fighting separatist trends among Iraq's three major groups, the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds, and instead embrace them. "The best hope for holding Iraq together -- and thereby avoiding civil war -- is to let each of its major constituent communities have, to the extent possible, the system each wants," Galbraith wrote last month.

    Even if adjustments in troop presence and goals help the United States prevail, it will not happen soon, several of those interviewed said. The United States is likely to be fighting in Iraq for at least another five years, said an Army officer who served there. "We'll be taking casualties," he warned, during that entire time.

    A long-term problem for any administration is that it may be difficult for the American public to tell whether the United States is winning or losing, and the prospect of continued casualties may prompt some to ask of how long the public will tolerate the fighting.

    "Iraq might have been worth doing at some price," Vickers said. "But it isn't worth doing at any price. And the price has gone very high."

    The other key factor in the war is Iraqi public opinion. A recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll found that a majority of Iraqis want the United States to leave immediately. "In Iraq, we are rapidly losing the support of the middle, which will enable the insurgency to persist practically indefinitely until our national resolve is worn down," the senior U.S. military intelligence officer said.

    Tolerance of the situation in Iraq also appears to be declining within the U.S. military. Especially among career Army officers, an extraordinary anger is building at Rumsfeld and his top advisers.

    "Like a lot of senior Army guys, I'm quite angry" with Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush administration, the young general said. He listed two reasons. "One is, I think they are going to break the Army." But what really incites him, he said, is, "I don't think they care."

    Jeff Smith, a former general counsel of the CIA who has close ties to many senior officers, said, "Some of my friends in the military are exceedingly angry." In the Army, he said, "It's pretty bitter."

    Retired Army Col. Robert Killebrew, a frequent Pentagon consultant, said, "The people in the military are mad as hell." He said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, should be fired. A spokesman for Myers declined to comment.

    A Special Forces officer aimed higher, saying that "Rumsfeld needs to go, as does Wolfowitz."

    Asked about such antagonism, Wolfowitz said, "I wish they'd have the -- whatever it takes -- to come tell me to my face."

    He said that by contrast, he had been "struck at how many fairly senior officers have come to me" to tell him that he and Rumsfeld have made the right decisions concerning the Army.

    © 2004 The Washington Post Company

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    Wow.

    That's a lot of reading........

  15. #15
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    For Iraqis to Win, the U.S. Must Lose
    By DAVID BROOKS

    This has been a crushingly depressing period, especially for people who support the war in Iraq. The predictions people on my side made about the postwar world have not yet come true. The warnings others made about the fractious state of post-Saddam society have.

    It's still too soon to declare the Iraq mission a failure. Some of the best reporting out of Iraq suggests that many Iraqis have stared into the abyss of what their country could become and have decided to work with renewed vigor toward the democracy that both we and they want.

    Nonetheless, it's not too early to begin thinking about what was clearly an intellectual failure. There was, above all, a failure to understand the consequences of our power. There was a failure to anticipate the response our power would have on the people we sought to liberate. They resent us for our power and at the same time expect us to be capable of everything. There was a failure to understand the effect our power would have on other people around the world. We were so sure we were using our might for noble purposes, we assumed that sooner or later, everybody else would see that as well. Far from being blinded by greed, we were blinded by idealism.

    Just after World War II, there were Americans who were astute students of the nature and consequences of American power. America's midcentury leaders — politicians like F.D.R. and Harry Truman, as well as public intellectuals like Reinhold Niebuhr and James Burnham — had seen American might liberate death camps. They had also seen Americans commit wartime atrocities that surpass those at Abu Ghraib.

    These midcentury leaders were idealists, but they were rugged idealists, because they combined a cold-eyed view of reality with a warm self-confidence in their ability to do history-changing good.

    They took a tragically ironic view of their situation. They understood that we can't defeat ruthless enemies without wielding power. But we can't wield power without sometimes being corrupted by it. Therefore, we can't do good without losing our innocence.

    History had assigned them a dirty job: taking morally hazardous action. They did not try to escape, but they did not expect sainthood.

    That rugged idealism looks appealing today. We went into Iraq with what, in retrospect, seems like a childish fantasy. We were going to topple Saddam, establish democracy and hand the country back to grateful Iraqis. We expected to be universally admired when it was all over.

    We didn't understand the tragic irony that our power is also our weakness. As long as we seemed so mighty, others, even those we were aiming to assist, were bound to revolt. They would do so for their own self-respect. In taking out Saddam, we robbed the Iraqis of the honor of liberating themselves. The fact that they had no means to do so is beside the point.

    Now, looking ahead, we face another irony. To earn their own freedom, the Iraqis need a victory. And since it is too late for the Iraqis to have a victory over Saddam, it is imperative that they have a victory over us. If the future textbooks of a free Iraq get written, the toppling of Saddam will be vaguely mentioned in one clause in one sentence. But the heroic Iraqi resistance against the American occupation will be lavishly described, page after page. For us to succeed in Iraq, we have to lose.

    That means the good Iraqis, the ones who support democracy, have to have a forum in which they can defy us. If the insurgents are the only anti-Americans, then there will always be a soft spot for them in the hearts of Iraqi patriots.

    That forum is an election campaign. There would be significant risks involved in moving the Iraq elections up to this fall. Parties might use their militias to coerce votes. But Iraqis have to see their candidates and themselves standing up with speeches and ideas, not just with R.P.G.'s. The insurgency would come to look anti-democratic, which would be seen to be bad, not just anti-American, which is seen to be good.

    If the Iraqis do campaign this fall, then at their rallies they will jeer at us. We will still be hated around the world. But we will have succeeded in doing what we set out to do.

    And we will have learned about the irony of our situation.

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