The overnight forecast

November 13, 2003

ON MONDAY, the CIA warned the White House that trouble in Iraq was going to intensify and spread to both the northern and southern sections of the country. On Tuesday, while L. Paul Bremer III was on his way to Washington for hurried talks on how to speed up the hand-over of power in Baghdad to Iraqis, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said his men in Iraq were at war, and vowed that they would begin acting like soldiers at war.

Those were the predictions. Here are some early results: Yesterday morning, suicide bombers blew up an Italian police station in the previously calm southern city of Nasiriyah, and last night American forces attacked a structure in Baghdad that evidently housed munitions, because it was destroyed in a series of big explosions.

The violence is ratcheting up in Iraq. Time does not appear to be on the Americans' side.

What happens now is a race - a race by the U.S. Army to achieve victory in Iraq before it is overtaken by such spreading disaffection and resentment among the Iraqi population that the victory isn't worth having. Two factors are driving that disaffection: the successes of the guerrillas, and the new, tougher tactics of the Americans. Both are now undergoing escalation.

The attack in Nasiriyah is an example of that, clearly designed to shake up both the Italians and the native Iraqis - who might have begun to think they could live quite well under foreign occupation.

Here's another example: U.S. Army units conducting raids on villages around Tikrit are now calling in air support. The trick with such a heavy-handed tactic is to kill or capture guerrillas without inspiring too many onlookers - or you might call them survivors - to take up arms against you. It's a tough assignment.

What happens in a crackdown? The most reliably pro-American leader in a Baghdad slum called Sadr City was killed Sunday, by an American soldier at a checkpoint who felt he wasn't obeying orders properly. A member of the Iraqi Governing Council was shot at yesterday by American troops as he rode by in his car; fortunately, they missed.

The goal should be to pacify, rather than inflame. That's easier said than done, especially when the enemy appears to have an extensive supply of explosives and is prepared to use them with deadly effect against American soldiers every day.

President Bush apparently told Mr. Bremer that he wants Iraqis in positions of authority, and fast. This makes sense on the political front; the Europeans want it, the Arabs want it, the Iraqis themselves want it. Will it make the Army's job harder? Maybe.

Mr. Bush should also open the door to a bigger international role in Iraq, but there's less and less evidence that anyone would want to walk through it, especially after the attack that killed 18 Italians. It looks as though that long, hard slog that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned about recently is going to be another prediction come true.

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