by Austin Bay
April 9, 2003
When the bullets stop the re-building begins.
Though victory celebrations fill Baghdad's streets as Saddam's statues topple, the gunfire hasn't quite stopped in Iraq.
Black-hooded fedayeen may try to slink out of town but they still have their Kalashnikovs. Die-hard Baath regime loyalists continue to man artillery positions around Baghdad. After the Gulf War in 1991, several Iraqi exiles told me that Saddam's forces pointed artillery at Baghdad neighborhoods, an explicit warning to the residents that if rebellion broke out the regime would destroy them and their homes. Until allied troops remove the Baath artillery, civilian neighborhoods risk reprisal attacks.
With Hizbollah and other Al Qaeda allies in Iraq, we will see attempted homicide terror bombings. Regime forces also control parts of northern Iraq, and it's a fair bet Islamo-fascist and Baath fascist holdouts will snipe on and off for weeks.
But organized Baath regime resistance is collapsing, in Baghdad and Basra. British troops conducted a calculated campaign in Basra, slowly prying the city from the Baathist grip. Outside Baghdad Saddam's Republican Guard died, smashed by the hard rain of allied precision air attacks and the gunfire of US soldiers and Marines. In western Iraq Saddam's most deadly dog of war didn't bark, as allied special operations forces and airpower suppressed the "SCUD box" and denied Saddam his most heinous option, a ballistic missile attack on Israel to widen the war.
Now US military civil affairs teams start the tough job of picking up after Saddam's reign of terror. Establishing security among elated, frightened people requires delicacy as well as strength.
The transition from HE (high explosive) to HA (humanitarian assistance) is already in progress, especially in Basra. British troops are already wrestling with water distribution issues.
The dicey changeover, the phase the Pentagon calls "war termination," is extremely complex and its strategic political significance extraordinary.
With a peaceful and more just 21st century the grand strategic goals, US and allied forces liberating Iraq must -more or less simultaneously-- end combat operations, cork public passions, disarm Iraqi battalions, bury the dead, explain the inexplicable to orphans, generate electricity, pump potable water, bring law from embittering lawlessness, empty jails of political prisoners, pack jails with criminals, turn armed partisans into peaceful citizens, re-arm local cops who were once enemy infantry, shoot terrorists, scotch terrifying rumors, thwart chiselers, carpetbaggers and blackmarketeers, fix sewers, feed refugees, patch potholes, get trash trucks rolling, and accomplish this under the lidless gaze of Peter Jennings and al-Jazeera.
Oil for Food must be transformed into oil for food, development, and investment, with the long-savaged Iraqi people getting their rightful share. Saddam's Swiss bankers and French business partners should have cough up the stolen billions he has stashed in their coffers.
That's quite a job, but so was smashing a heavily-armed and entrenched tyranny in 22 days.
It's also imperative that US search teams locate weapons of mass destruction. Many military analysts have long suspected Saddam's regime stored VX persistent nerve agent in the western Iraqi desert, near potential SCUD launch sites. Since the late 1960s Baghdad and Damascus have been terrorist headquarters. US intelligence officers must now publicly document that wicked history. No doubt Baath officials are burning documents and smashing computer hard drives. They can't burn and smash them all.
Actions create facts -- rubble where the World Trade Center once stood is a terrible fact. The defeat of Saddam gives the people of Iraq the opportunity to create a working democracy in the Middle East, to establish facts that demolish tyrannical fictions, just as US soldiers inspecting Saddam's gawdy palaces exposed the nattering lies of Saddam's information minister, Mohammad Said Sahhaf.
The global village saw the pre-war debate, saw the war progress, and now witnesses the joy of the Iraqi people. The fall of Saddam may well ignite new demands for liberty in the world's hard corners. Well and good. American security is founded on liberty, and a politically freer planet, a planet freed from the grip of tyrants and the threat of terrorists, is a far safer world.