Wednesday, April 21, 2004

A Long Hard One

Either way you slice it, the US has a serious problem on its hands with Iraq. After a tumultuous month, the Administration is quickly moving to acquire more UN assistance. With the June 30th hand-over date on the horizon, and no let up in insurgent attacks, it appears that securing a workable mandate with the UN won't necessarily matter in the short-run.

Despite wails of consternation from Bush detractors to internationalize the occupation of Iraq, the UN has been hesitant to step in at any capacity since the bombing of its headquarters in Iraq last August. Some months back, Kofi Annan deplored the UN's lack of risk assement and preparedness in Iraq that led to the bombing that killed 22 and wounded 150. Seeking desperately to change the optics, the Bush Administration has tasked U.N. diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi to handle the process of power transfer by June 30th.

Another battle the US faces is keeping coalition members in the coalition. Spain and Honduras have decided to move their troops out earlier than expected, yet their military presence in Iraq-- not to demean-- was, and is, very small and ineffectual. The US hasn't really made a rile about losing these members of the "coalition of the willing", which should speak to how valuable their contributions really were.

Nonetheless, even if the Bush Administration is shifting its policy-- be it from lack of alternatives, or because of political imperatives and strategic necessities-- the attacks by insurgents still continue. If anything, the presence of more troops will only embolden insurgent and guerilla efforts. In addition, the sophistication of the attacks seem to be increasing, and an unweilding response by US forces to these attacks will only cause unavoidable civilian causalities-- further exacerbating US relations with moderates.

An interesting point, though, that goes unmentioned, is the characterization of these latest uprisings in Fulluja and Najaf as insurgent uprising, rather than terror related. The term terrorist has been dropped from White House parlance with regard to Iraq lately; though just today their seems to have been car bombings in Iraq killing 68 people which may be related to foreign terrorist.

What the Bush Administration is certainly doing right now is working the back channels of negotiation with moderate clerics like Sistani, in an attempt to mollify these uprisings. Short of precise tactical weapons to extricate these insurgents, the US has to negotiate to maintain a level of civility just to start talks. Sustained attacks against the insurgents hold up in civilian areas will prove to be extremely counter productive in the long run.

Therefore, though internationalizing the occupation of Iraq is a wise, if far a too late, move by the Bush Administration, the larger problem is regaining stability within the region. This requires propping up credible public arbiters, Sistani being one, and removing all appearances of an engineered occupation (Iraq governing Council-IGC). Likewise, other substantive measures should be taken, but the optics must be changed aswell. This will be even tougher to do, now, with the new US super embassy in Iraq headed by John Negroponte. The embassy will have a staff of 3000 thousand people, the largest in the world, and control the administrative apparatus of Iraq—overseeing the IGC, but that’s a whole other story. Right now it looks like its going to be a “long, hard slog.”

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