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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

03 December 2003

Visiting Scholars Offer Firsthand Impressions of Iraq

Brookings panelists evaluate success, failures of occupation

By Afzal Khan
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington -- Three think tank scholars, who have just returned from separate visits to Iraq, presented mixed assessments of U.S. successes and failures in the occupation of that country. They were part of a December 2 panel at the Brookings Institution in Washington entitled "Firsthand Views from Iraq."

Michael O'Hanlon, a Senior Fellow specializing in security issues in the Foreign Policy Studies program at the Brookings Institution, spent some "two and a half days" in September in Iraq. He came back with the impression that "on balance" the United States will ultimately succeed in Iraq.

O'Hanlon said he is "guardedly optimistic" that the situation in Iraq will stabilize under a government similar to "Ataturk's Turkey." He dismissed the possibility of a U.S.-style Jeffersonian democracy taking shape in Iraq in the immediate future.

O'Hanlon said "positive things" were happening in Iraq such as the ready availability of electricity and water, and access to telephones. He said hospitals are open and schools are full of children who, otherwise, would be on the streets and possibly could become victims of clashes between U.S. troops and insurgent groups.

According to O'Hanlon, "crime rates" in big cities such as Baghdad have begun to diminish and improving security conditions have resulted in fewer Iraqi casualties.

O'Hanlon said U.S. counter-insurgency efforts in Iraq have met with considerable success with the killing or arrest of "some 5,000 to 10,000 insurgents" belonging to Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen Corps, Special Republican Guards and Intelligence units. However, a similar number of insurgents remains at large, he cautioned.

According to O'Hanlon, U.S. Army troops have so far been "using force carefully" and avoided mass killings of Iraqi civilians. He said he believes that the Iraqi insurgency will not "snowball" with greater participation by civilians.

O'Hanlon predicted that in December, January and February, the number of U.S. military casualties from the insurgency will drop compared to November. "Careless and controversial tactics" by the U.S. military -- such as daylight flights by helicopters over the Sunni Triangle -- contributed to the heavy casualties during November, O'Hanlon said.

Kenneth Pollack, Director of Research at Brookings' Saban Center for Middle East Policy and a Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies program, offered his impressions of Iraq after spending just "over a week" there in November. After speaking to about 100 Iraqis, he said he has concluded that there is "a great deal of good and also a great deal of bad going on in Iraq."

Pollack, echoing O'Hanlon, said that electricity availability is much better than "three to four months ago" and that the "rebuilding of schools" has ensured greater enrollment of children and better pay for teachers compared to conditions in Saddam Hussein's days.

"The markets are back and functioning with lots of available food even if some is not of high quality," Pollack said. He added that inflation is lower than could have been expected under the circumstances.

However, "security is bad," Pollack said. He said the number one question from working Iraqis is "when will we be safe?" and their greatest gripe is the presence of U.S. troops in Baghdad.

Pollack criticized the U.S. military in Iraq for being concerned above all about protecting the lives of U.S. troops and for doing too little to protect Iraqis.

"U.S. troops are not on the streets" to protect Iraqis, Pollack said. He said U.S. armored vehicles race through neighborhoods of Iraqi cities only as a show of force.

On the positive side, Pollack praised the plan of the Coalition Provisional Authority chief L. Paul Bremer to install an "interim Iraqi assembly" chosen through elections by local caucuses. He said such an assembly would lend "an Iraqi face" to the government of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq while leaving the option open for a continued "longer-term" U.S. presence.

Pollack said that the Iraqis he talked to are "terrified" about the prospect of U.S. troops leaving Iraq before a stable government is established. Pollack said if the United States withdraws its troops and curtails efforts to stabilize the country, Iraq could very well slide into civil war, reminiscent of "Lebanon in the 1970s and 1980s."

Pollack recommended increasing the numbers of U.S. infantry participating in joint patrols with Iraqis, of civilian affairs officers assigned to the hinterland, of Arabic translators, and of staffers in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). He said the CPA needs to spread out into the provinces rather than remain entrenched in Baghdad in heavily guarded quarters in the "green zone," which he said is largely inaccessible to ordinary Iraqis.

Charles Duelfer, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and former Deputy Executive Chairman of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) from 1993 until its termination in 2000, offered his impressions of Iraq, where he worked from April through July of this year.

Duelfer said that it "mildly surprised" him that so far not even a small quantity of chemical or biological weapons has been found in Iraq. However, he said that even if he thinks that no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are now likely to be found, the removal of the Saddam Hussein regime was the right strategy for the Bush administration because Saddam Hussein could have resumed the production of WMD after the U.N. inspections and sanctions had run their course,

Duelfer criticized the CPA for the total elimination of the Ba'ath party and the Iraqi army and security services. "They were fatal errors," he said.

According to him, many technocrats and middle class professionals who are needed to rebuild Iraq belonged to the Ba'ath party not because of choice but because of the need to join the party to get a job during the Saddam Hussein regime. Now these jobless technocrats and former soldiers -- many of them in the Sunni Triangle -- resent the American occupation, he said.

Duelfer said that U.S. military tactics involving house-to-house sweeps are "highly embarrassing and insulting" to most Iraqis. According to him many Iraqis who at first welcomed the removal of the Saddam Hussein regime have now become alienated.

Duelfer also said the "American logic" of a representative government based on population numbers of different ethnic and religious groups will not work in Iraq.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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