July 1 was a fairly typical day for U.S. forces in Iraq, two months after President Bush declared that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended."
American soldiers were the targets of at least three separate attacks from rocket-propelled grenades, escalating a guerrilla campaign that has mushroomed since the official war ended. Four Iraqis were killed and several were wounded by U.S. troops at checkpoints in Baghdad. In Falluja, residents blamed an American missile for an explosion that killed several people in the Al Hassan mosque. U.S. authorities said the blast was caused by explosive inside the mosque, but the incident further inflamed tensions in a region where American forces have been working for weeks to win friends among skeptical locals.
Throughout Iraq, countless other standoffs, showdowns and miscommunications have complicated U.S. efforts to restore order and win popular support. The war to remove Saddam Hussein went as well as American planners could have hoped, but the process of building a free and stable society in place of Hussein's cruel order is off to a very bad start. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are still waiting for basic services such as electricity and water to be fully restored. Spreading acts of sabotage and guerrilla attacks are endangering U.S. and British troops and undercutting their postwar mission. Political opposition to the U.S.-led occupation has been spreading even among factions that were happy to see Hussein go. And the continuing failure of U.S. forces to account for Hussein's fate causes many Iraqis to fear that the dictator may yet return to power. (Ominously, the same sorts of problems still plague the American mission in Afghanistan after more than a year and a half of effort.)
Our shorthanded forces have become captives of the Bush administration's faulty postwar assumptions. They are performing to the best of their ability, but they need much more help. About 146,000 American troops are still in Iraq. Many have been there since the war began and are exhausted from their extended stays. Most have received little training for the peacemaking duties they are now being asked to perform. Meanwhile, only about 12,000 troops are serving in Iraq from all other countries combined. We need more help: help in sharing the costs (at least $3-billion a month), the dangers (almost 100 U.S. and British troops killed in the past two months) and the political burdens of rebuilding Iraq.
Even many governments that opposed the war are prepared to play an active role in Iraq's postwar reconstruction, but the Bush administration unwisely rejected a significant international role at the outset. That decision needs to be reconsidered. The United Nations, NATO and other international bodies have experience in peacekeeping and nation-building operations, and the broader presence of international forces would help to lower the lightning-rod profile of U.S. personnel.
The Pentagon is making plans to bring in between 20,000 and 30,000 additional international troops, some trained by NATO, to take over some postwar duties. So far, however, there has been no effort to seek help from France, Germany and other governments that have offered postwar help despite differences over the original decision to go to war. Even some prominent Washington Republicans are pressing the Bush administration to build a broader international presence in Iraq. "We need to involve the world, the globe," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., "because we're talking about freedom."
Beyond broadening our forces in Iraq, White House strategists need to rethink their assumptions about the scope and nature of the postwar mission. Even in the best of circumstances, our efforts to achieve one primary goal (establishing law and order) can undercut efforts to achieve another (winning popular support among the Iraqi people). A heavy military presence is still necessary in major Iraqi cities, but it creates images of occupation that overshadow civilian projects Americans are undertaking for the benefit of Iraqis. And the continuing instability has caused U.S. authorities to delay a transition process that was to have allowed most Iraqis to govern and police themselves by now.
Administration planners thought most of Iraq would unite behind the post-Hussein institutions made possible by their American liberators. The hard truth is that Iraqis have seldom been united in anything other than a fear of Hussein's dictatorship. Hussein's long reign masked religious and ethnic divisions that always have made Iraq something less than a coherent nation. Today, an alarming number of Iraqis are coalescing around a shared antipathy for their U.S. occupiers. As our government moves forward in what President Bush acknowledged this week will be a "massive and long-term undertaking," it needs to bring in international help to lower the American profile in Iraq, lower the costs to American taxpayers and lower the risks to our troops.