'Now comes the hard part -- peace'

U.S. troops face challenge of imposing law, order on newly leaderless Baghdad

Ill-suited role, some analysts say

War In Iraq

April 10, 2003|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - U.S. forces who seized Baghdad yesterday still face months, perhaps even years of difficult and dangerous work inside the Iraqi capital as they begin to make the transition into a peacekeeping and policing role that they are less prepared for than combat and perhaps ill-suited to perform, analysts say.

The challenge of imposing law and order on a newly leaderless city was immediately apparent, as mobs of Baghdad residents stormed into the streets to loot government buildings and destroy public symbols of Saddam Hussein's reign. The soldiers who precipitated that disruption now must prevent the city's decline into lawlessness - hardly the obvious task for the deadliest ground force in the world.

"The problem, as I've often characterized it, is that we train our troops to vaporize, not to Mirandize," said Lawrence J. Korb, an assistant defense secretary in the Reagan administration, referring to the Miranda warnings read to criminal suspects.

"You can teach them to act as police officers, and we do. But they are primarily war fighters and always will be," Korb said.

Pentagon officials stressed yesterday that the war in Iraq is not over and that military threats still exist throughout the country.

But even as new battles loom, U.S. troops also find themselves as the only controlling authority in many parts of Baghdad and southern Iraq. By scaring off or rooting out regime leaders, they stand to become the de facto government officials, police officers and firefighters throughout much of the country.

This transition from aggressive fighting force to peacekeeper is a delicate one, military officials say. Three weeks after roaring into Iraq, the military is being asked to put on the friendly face of American diplomacy.

The new role demands a minimum of force, rather than maximum firepower. Troops must settle disputes face to face, not down the barrel of a tank.

Many national security analysts say peacekeeping is an operation that is every bit as important as the war itself. Whereas the military campaign will determine the fate of Hussein, they say, only the aftermath will determine the future of Iraq, and perhaps all of the Middle East.

"Now comes the hard part - peace," said Harlan K. Ullman, a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"The perils are huge," he said. "Suppose we can't feed them, suppose there's unrest. Who's going to police them?"

The Army and Marine Corps have civil affairs specialists trained for such operations, and military police units are expected to take over some of the law enforcement responsibilities. But at least initially, any soldier or Marine could find himself policing the streets, fielding complaints or negotiating with Iraqi citizens - duties that few of them have ever performed.

"'He stole my car,' `your son assaulted my son,' `my bicycle's in your yard'- it's every kind of dispute and argument you could imagine, some of them quite violent and dangerous," said retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark, the NATO supreme commander during peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo.

"They have to immediately begin operating under a whole different set of principles - negotiating, mediating, facilitating - and playing a role that's quite different from the one they've played the last three weeks," Clark said.

Indeed, some military officers question whether America's warriors are its best peacemakers.

"It's something that armies don't do particularly well," said one Pentagon official. "A soldier in combat for three weeks doesn't make a good marriage counselor."

Ultimately, security and policing authority will be handed over to Iraq's own police forces, Pentagon officials say, and some Iraqis might be enlisted early in the postwar operation to help keep the peace. But Iraq's pre-war security forces were considered the embodiment of Hussein's oppressive and dictatorial regime, and offer little foundation on which to build.

The United States and Britain have about 120,000 troops inside Iraq today, and Clark said that every one of them will probably be needed to fan out across Iraq and impose order.

Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, suggested before the war that several hundred thousand troops might be needed. Other Pentagon officials suggested 65,000 would be enough.

Either way, the United States' peacekeeping resources may quickly wear thin. Central Command says it has about 5,000 military police officers, most of them scattered around the Middle East and Afghanistan working as prison guards or patrolling U.S. bases. The U.S. level of training and experience in peacekeeping is so limited, in fact, that many analysts say that role is best handled by the United Nations and countries such as Canada or France, which have longer histories at peacekeeping operations.

While the Bush administration has resisted U.N. involvement, others say that a multi-national presence might be the only way to ensure a successful and timely reconstruction of Iraq.

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