TOPICS > Nation

The New Iraq

May 2, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: We get three perspectives now on this post combat phase in Iraq. Adeed Dawisha is a professor of political science at Miami University of Ohio and has written widely on the politics of the Middle East. He was born in Iraq and is now an American citizen. Hamid Dabashi is chairman of the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures Department at Columbia University. He’s written widely on politics and religion in the Middle East. And former marine counterintelligence officer Dale Davis is director of international programs and teaches Arabic at Virginia Military Institute. Dale Davis, you heard the president proclaim the combat phase is over. Let me get a brief view from you on what the assignment is, the mission when it comes to security in Iraq.

DALE DAVIS: Really, I think the key word, Ray, was major combat operations are over. Certainly there is a lot of combat out there but it is squad level, platoon level combat. What missions remain, still need to find weapons of mass destruction, still need to track down a lot of regime leaders. We need to bring security to Iraq, especially the urban areas and then stabilization. In other words, we need to reestablish basic services and bring Iraq back to its feet so it can operate on its own and with its own people.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Dabashi, your view of the American role now?

HAMID DABASHI: I think we need to distinguish between three regions in Iraq, and lumping them together is not correct. The northern region, the Kurdish area where the U.S. troops are very much welcomed by the Kurds is a different situation than the south where the U.S. troops faces hostile Shiia majority with possible interference from the Iranians. And the third area would be, obviously, Baghdad. And you cannot have one scenario which is equally applicable in these three sections. You will have to have a scenario for each one of them. But the predominant scenario will have to be a very quick phasing out of the American visible presence, and a phasing in of alternative forces that will not generate a vacuum that can be potentially quite dangerous. What are those potential alternatives? One thinks immediately of the U.N.. Some European countries seem to be playing an active role, for example, the Danish ambassador to Syria, BBC is now reporting has been sent to or is about to be sent to Damascus… to Basra to take control of Basra. And the meeting that Aznar, prime minister of Spain convened in Madrid seems to be an alternative. And the League of Arab Nations could be contemplated as a possible force to come in and control the situation.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Dawisha, a quick phasing out?

ADEED DAWISHA: No, I don’t think so. I think at the moment the American troops are the only authority in Iraq. That’s the south and the center of Iraq. I think we want to behave like an authority. Jay garner is basically for whatever label we give him, is the de facto governor of Iraq. And I think that Iraqis, both in the south and in the center, look to the Americans to impose law and order. Now, of course, there are pockets of people, groups who are against the American presence. But many of these are being, as Michael Gordon had said in the report from Baghdad, are being, in a sense, exploited by remnants of the old Ba’athist regime, security apparatus, special Republican Guard and the second level Ba’athist. And we need to, in a sense, go out of our way to pick these people and basically arrest them and bring them to justice. If we do that, we actually are not going to alienate the Iraqis. In fact, we are going to win their support. The support… much of the middle class in Iraq today, especially in Baghdad and in some other cities like Basra, are getting alienated by the fact that security is not there. And the sooner we impose security, I think the bigger the support we are going to get from the middle class, which is one of the most important actually sectors of society for us.

RAY SUAREZ: So contrary to what Professor Dabashi just suggested instead of a phasing out or replacement of American power, you want to see it more in evidence?

ADEED DAWISHA: I want to see the evidence of two things. On the one hand, evidence of an authority that imposes law and order. This is nothing to do with Iraq. Every other country has mechanisms of coercion that are basically there to impose law and order. On the other hand, we really want to kind of create a network of relationships with other sectors of Iraqi society, especially with the middle class in order to win their support and bring them into a cooperative relationship with the American forces. But these two things are not mutually exclusive. Any authority anywhere in the world, in any country, actually works like that.

RAY SUAREZ: So lieutenant colonel you need what, not only the right size force, but the right kind of force?

DALE DAVIS: And that’s exactly right. I almost fall in between your two other guests, in the sense that we cannot really phase out entirely our U.S. forces because it would create a vacuum. But we can change the type of forces that are there. First of all, let’s consider who is providing the security operations now. On the whole, although it’s changing quickly, it has been the same troops that were engaged in intense combat operations in the race to Baghdad offensive operations. They have been operating under a different set of rules of engagement, a very aggressive set of rules of engagement in which they respond to aggression in an overwhelming… with overwhelming firepower. Those are not particularly the best troops to have dealing with civil disturbance. We are going to see a transition now where we have fresh units coming in who are going to… who will not have had that tiring experience of 350-mile trek to Baghdad, who will be more prepared to deal with civil disturbance. And we’ll see the type of forces mixed in the package that are more reinforcement like civil affairs to deal with a variety of issues and water purification units, MPS, not so much a phasing out as the changing of the type of forces that’s important.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Dabashi, no matter who provide the security, is this something that has to be done quickly so that other people don’t rise to fill the vacuum?

HAMID DABASHI: I believe so. It has to be done very quickly and despite the fact that, yes, there are elements of the Ba’ath Party, Iranian elements in the south that may want to take advantage of the situation. But these two factors do not detract from the fact that the Iraqis, 26 million population of a nation state having barely emerged from a brutal dictatorship have suddenly found themselves under military occupation. This military occupation is a paradoxical situation. The more forces that are present the more resistance they generate and these resistances will inevitably manifest themselves as they have in Fallujah — killing of the civilians and retaliation against the U.S. forces. So the quicker the phasing out but I do agree that the phasing out doesn’t mean necessarily creating a vacuum. It has to be supplements immediately by phasing in by alternative forces that are not immediately identifiable with the U.S. military occupation.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you mention the Fallujah attack. Lieutenant colonel, what does that tell you, the fact that this happened a couple of times, similar things, in confrontation with civilians?

DALE DAVIS: It tells me several things. First of all, most likely there were people taking advantage of the situation. But at the same time, the people of Fallujah were not particularly pleased by the presence of U.S. forces. On our side, it tells me that those troops that were there, the initial incident involving the 82nd Airborne, tired, been operating for a long time on little sleep, and dealing with offensive operations, in many cases, having to shoot at people who were wearing civilian clothes because they were in fact shooting at them, were probably not well prepared for that incident. It tells me that we need to change that force structure. And as the professor says, what we ought to do is look at some of our coalition partners. In fact we are doing that. We are bringing in a lot of police. The Italians are bringing in and there is a State Department contract out with Dinecorps to bring in 1,000 civilian police officers from the United States within the month of may. We are moving towards this effort to create a non-military appearance, although there are still going to be MP’s, they will be less aggress any of their appearance and teamed with Iraqis in such a way as not to present such an intrusive presence in the Iraqis’ lives. It is very important for people to understand the political psychology of occupation in the Arab world. It doesn’t take a great leap of faith or imagination for an Iraqi, who regardless of what he thought about Saddam Hussein, has watched for many, many years the Israeli occupation of the occupied territories, Palestine, in the most brutal sense on Arab TV, the most brutal scenes over and over and over. It doesn’t take a great leap of faith for him to relate or to draw an analogy between his current situation and a place like Fallujah with that of the Palestinians and react to it in a similar fashion.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Dawisha, do you agree with that?

ADEED DAWISHA: Yeah. I think that’s a very good point. And any occupation that overstays its welcome is going to be under increasing pressure from the population. However, what I would like to draw attention to is the experience of the British in Basra. This is quintessentially Shiite cities, yet we don’t see the kind of eruptions in Basra that we saw in Najaf because the British, from the very beginning in a sense, targeted the leaders of the old regime, the security agencies, the members of the Ba’ath Parties, very quickly went in, flushed them out, arrested them and I saw pictures of these arrests. They were not using kid gloves at all. But that, in a sense, has removed the one irritant in the society. And we don’t hear these kinds of eruptions or people shooting at the British in Basra. I have had actually a call from a relative of mine in Basra and he said life is back to normal. Electricity is back, he actually is a pharmacist who has gone on and opened his pharmacy about a week ago. And life seems to be normal. Yet this is the Shiite city that was supposed to, in a sense, create problems in the way that say Najaf and Karbala had been in Iraq — but nothing of the sort.

RAY SUAREZ: One quick question before we go. There are alternative armed groups in the country: Two Kurdish armies, free Iraqi forces. How do they co-exist in the near term with American troops?

DALE DAVIS: I think right now they’re co-existing with American troops relatively well when you talk about the Kurds. There has been an incident today with the free Iraqi forces. I think the United States is reevaluating its relationship with the INC and its armed wing, which is the free Iraqi forces. We had a firefight today. I don’t know the details. A comment I heard from the special forces officer is that when we have dealt with these people, the free Iraqi forces, which were widely rumored to be the future cadre of a new Iraqi army, they have been untrainable. It bodes ill again, I think for the U.S. to continue its close relationship with the INC and the free Iraqi forces in terms of long-term stability.

RAY SUAREZ: Professors, thank you all.