Endurance in Iraq

The daily news reports of attacks on American soldiers in Iraq distort the bigger picture of what is going on there.

The attacks continue to be concentrated in the "Sunni triangle" spreading from Baghdad to the north and west. In most of the country - the southern majority Shiite and northern Kurdish regions - the situation is fairly peaceful. This is not surprising - many Arab Sunnis were the primary supporters of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime.

The killings last week of Uday and Qusay Hussein struck a psychological blow against the resisting remnants of the regime, but attacks from former regime supporters, other Iraqis, and foreign terrorists will remain a concern in the weeks ahead.

Despite all this, the US has made progress in starting to rebuild a country devastated by recent looting on top of years of sanctions and misrule. The Iraqi Governing Council is in place and a process for writing a constitution and holding elections is under way. Hospitals are up and running; people are getting food. Several thousand Iraqi police are being trained to take over policing duties from coalition soldiers, lowering the US profile. That will be an important step in calming the population.

Meanwhile US chief administrator Paul Bremer has announced a bold plan to recruit and train an Iraqi army battalion within the next 60 days, to restore electricity supplies to prewar levels by September, to deploy border guards, to resume civilian court trials, and to open 1,000 schools with new textbooks by October.

The rebuilding effort will be costly. It will take an estimated $13 billion just to establish a modern power grid and $16 billion for the water system. That will require serious international assistance. President Bush is reportedly considering asking former Secretary of State James Baker III or other prominent figures to help in soliciting more international troops and aid.

Serious challenges remain. Supporters of Hussein will try to sabotage reconstruction. A young Shiite cleric, Moqtada Sadr, is making trouble in the city of Najaf. The US needs to offer something to the Sunnis; a more discriminating de-Baathification process - one that lets former party members who did no real political work return to their jobs - could help.

The next three months are crucial. When Iraqis can see things are getting better, support for attacks on US troops will decrease. In the end, the benefits of creating a peaceful, democratic Iraq will be worth the huge cost.

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