Engineering a new Iraq

Saddam Hussein's regime has collapsed into a maze of toppled statues, isolated snipers, and burning buildings. Militarily, the war was quick and successful. But US troops and the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), run by retired Gen. Jay Garner, have begun what could be a much longer fight to define and support a democratic Iraq.

Anti-US protests in Baghdad on Friday and a meeting of Iraqi opposition leaders last week showed some of the challenges ahead. An influential Shiite group boycotted the meeting, protesting US administration of postwar Iraq. "Iraq needs an Iraqi interim government. Anything other than this tramples the rights of the Iraqi people and will be a return to the era of colonization," said Abdul Aziz Hakim, a leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Another meeting, planned for Friday, may determine which Iraqis will support General Garner's efforts - and which will oppose them.

US troops in the Gulf - already dwindling in number from their earlier strength of 300,000 - are charged with maintaining order in Iraq, a diverse country of 23 million people. Garner's performance will determine, in large part, how hard their job will be.

Key issues

De-Baathification There is heated dispute over how completely Mr. Hussein's Baath Party must be dismantled. The State Department has argued that some mid- and low-level party members can and should be rehabilitated, as they have the experience to keep the country running; opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi - who has strong Pentagon support - has called for the Baath Party to be "uprooted." But some experts say an aggressive US effort to "de-Baathify" Iraq without broad international support and input could backfire.

"If the United States de-Baathifies Iraq, it's going to be seen as installing its own stooges," says Prof. Rashid Khalidi, director of the University of Chicago's Center for International Studies. "If you don't have some way of engaging in an impartial process, inevitably the result is going to be perceived as tainted."

The Kurds The two main Kurdish factions have enjoyed partial independence in northern Iraq since 1991. Therefore, they have much to lose by joining a unified Iraq. However, regional fears of an independent Kurdistan and US pressure are expected to guide the Kurds into a new, federalized Iraqi government. Key US ally Turkey wants the Kurds to be part of a unified Iraq and to be prevented from reestablishing themselves in their traditional capital, Kirkuk. If Kurds gain too much power in postwar Iraq, Turkey could split diplomatically from the US - or even intervene militarily to smash Kurdish power.

Postwar justice US military tribunals, international courts, and some form of Iraqi-run trials are all under consideration as ways to prosecute Iraqis accused of crimes against humanity. The Bush administration has been loath to put more power into the hands of international tribunals. But purely US trials of Iraqis could be viewed as imperialism.

"I think the legitimacy of [the tribunals] is in question when they're run and dominated by foreigners," says Jeswald Salacuse, professor at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Mass. "Think about a tribunal that's trying these leaders, and all the judges are Americans. That would be very provocative." Trials by Iraqi courts, however, could be tainted by ethnic, religious, or tribal antagonisms and sympathies.

Debt and oil Secretive central planning, overreliance on oil revenues, foreign debt, and large-scale embezzlement have put Iraq's economy in a perilous position. If Russia, France, and other major Iraqi creditors are not satisfied, they could block postwar reconstruction through the UN and other international agencies. If they are satisfied, foreign debt could threaten the economy of the new state.

Challenging transitions

Leadership All power in Iraq - except in the Kurdish north - once flowed downhill from Hussein's Baath Party. The group's inner circle boasted close tribal and family relationships to the dictator. The US military and its ORHA will step directly into the vacuum left by the Baath Party's defeat, in consultation with an Iraqi interim authority that has yet to be formed.

Civil services The Baath Party, which once boasted 2 million members, dominated Iraq's civil administration down to the level of teachers in village schools. Now, even as US civil-affairs troops struggle with irregular supplies of food, water, and electricity, the US will have to decide what elements of the party it wants to replace. In the meantime, aid groups are organizing relief convoys from Kuwait and Jordan to help stabilize the country. But some experts warn that a long-term flood of aid into postwar Iraq may create a culture of dependency.

Law and order Secret police, civil police, and military security forces overlapped to create a pervasive police state under Hussein. But due to the aggressive role of elite security forces, local police officers are in many cases held less accountable for the Hussein regime's worst excesses - and are therefore being tapped for joint patrols with US forces in cities such as Baghdad and Basra.

"As a practical matter, you can't police the country effectively unless the Iraqis are brought quickly into the civil administration and enforcement mechanism," says Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.

The question of sharia (Islamic law) in postwar Iraq is also critical. "The program of most [Iraqi] fundamentalists is to reinstitute the so-called 'pure' sharia law," says Professor Salacuse. "So the question is going to be: What role does sharia have in this new legal system?"

If there is popular demand for sharia in Iraq, the US, a strong proponent of women's rights, will be placed in an awkward position. "There's no question that traditional Islamic law, as traditionally interpreted, relegates women to a more inferior position legally than secular systems," says Salacuse.

Who's in charge?

Until a stable Iraqi government can be established, US armed forces will provide security and supervise civil affairs in Iraq.

Gen. Franks

Commander of the US war effort against Saddam Hussein's regime, Gen. Tommy Franks now bears overall responsibility for US military and civil administration in postwar Iraq.

Jay Garner

Assisted by subordinates in three administrative sectors of Iraq (see map), retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner will manage Iraq's civil affairs in consultation with Iraqis until power can be fully passed to a stable Iraqi interim authority. He is set to arrive in Baghdad Monday.

Gen. Abizaid

Lt. Gen. John Abizaid is the No. 2 officer at US Central Command, after General Franks.

This Arabic-speaking officer oversees the day-to-day operations of US forces in Iraq.

US steps to rebuilding an independent Iraq

War Destroy or neutralize all hostile military elements of Saddam Hussein's regime. After the fall of Tikrit April 14, the Pentagon declared that the war's major fighting was over.

BUILD SECURITY Use US military to stabilize civil life, halt looting, and deter guerrilla warfare.

US INTERIM ADMINISTRATION In consultation with local Iraqi leaders and prominent exiles, establish the ORHA, a mechanism for US control of civilian functions. These include the regulation of agriculture, the restoration of basic services, and the return of Iraqi children to school. The US also plans to set up a security force, stabilize the flow of aid, and pass power and responsibility over to the Iraqi interim authority as conditions allow.

IRAQI INTERIM AUTHORITY Define a broad and representative group of Iraqis to begin temporary assumption of some aspects of civilian government. Condoleezza Rice recently said all members of this group must respect the territorial integrity and unity of Iraq, support a "broadly representative" Iraqi government, respect human rights, and oppose any presence of weapons of mass destruction.

REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT Once the country is secure and Iraqis are overseeing most civil functions, a democratic and fully sovereign Iraqi government can be set up. The shape of this government is still undetermined.

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