Three weeks after the proclamation of victory in the Persian Gulf war, it becomes ever clearer that the peace cannot be won unless Saddam Hussein is removed from power. So long as this ruthless dictator controls the remnants of the Iraqi army, he can inflict terrible punishment on Kurds rebelling in the north and Shiites in revolt in the south. These two very different population groups are probably less able to hold the country together than the centrally located Sunnis. But if a Sunni government remains the answer, it will have to be far more democratic and broadly based than the military clique, mainly drawn from the town of Takrit, that produced the Saddam regime.
At present Iraq confronts Turkey on the north, Iran on the east and U.S. forces inside its southern border, all of which oppose the present government in Baghdad. Turkey reportedly is helping the Kurds, though its relations with its own Kurdish minority are none too good. Iran, having snookered Saddam into believing he had placated old enemies, is now giving out-front support to Shiite rebels and is demanding the ouster of the Iraqi leader. As for Americans, they remain on both sides of the Iraqi southern border and are quite capable (as they did yesterday) of swatting down an Iraqi SU-22 fighter-bomber that took to the skies in violation of the temporary cease-fire.
For the United States, the most pressing postwar, pre-peace question is what role this country should fulfill in the immediate aftermath of the struggle to liberate Kuwait. President Bush is under political pressure, some of it self-inflicted, to pull out U.S. ground forces quickly and leave the policing of the region to a United Nations peacekeeping force. It is an alluring prospect, but an illusory one.
So great is the refugee problem mounting in all directions that Mr. Bush cannot ignore it. Instead, he has a rare opportunity to create goodwill for the United States by using his expeditionary force to help feed, shelter and transport refugees in the most dire straits. Shiites are fleeing from Basra southward in a frantic effort to escape the spread of civil war. Kuwaitis seeking to return to their country are often being turned back for lack of papers. The situation is chaotic and increasingly desperate, one that requires a U.S. moral commitment.
In addition to a potential humanitarian mission, U.S. forces also need to be present in adequate strength to prevent the PTC fundamentalist regime in Tehran from renewing the Iran-Iraq war in a bid for regional domination. They also can be both a source of assistance and pressure on a Kuwaiti government that needs to become more democratic and more efficient in restoring the ravaged little country. Finally, they can hobble Saddam's efforts to cling to office at whatever the cost to his war-weary populace. These three missions explain why the withdrawal of U.S. ground forces should be measured and deliberate.