- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 12, 2003

CAIRO The military outcome of a U.S.-led war to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein may prove overwhelming and relatively quick, but the true measure of Washington's long-term success is likely to depend on how it copes with the delicate task of stitching Iraq back together.
In the event that U.S.-led forces take control of Iraqi cities and towns, soldiers could immediately encounter people begging for water, food, medical care and shelter all of which are likely to be scarce after ground battles and air raids.
Perhaps more challenging would be the retribution killings expected to sweep the country, settling scores after Saddam's brutal 33-year rule.
"The system of law and order will break down. … There will be no police force, no justice system, no civil service and no accountability. In this confusion, people will be inclined to take justice into their own hands," Rend Rahim Francke, Iraqi-born executive director of the Washington-based Iraqi Foundation, said in congressional testimony.
A retired U.S. Army colonel who is an expert at cleaning up after wars echoed those fears.
"This is a society that has been brutalized. … Keeping it on track is going to be very, very difficult," said Scott Feil, who directs a study of the military's role in postconflict reconstruction for the Association of the United States Army.
Saddam's rule has been responsible for countless political killings. His cohorts in the ruling Ba'ath Party, who have controlled daily life down to the neighborhood level in Iraq's cities, would be the first targets for revenge.
Mr. Francke also expects the humanitarian apparatus to break down, and Col. Feil predicted that once the war is over, it could cost the United States $100 billion and take as long as seven years to ensure Iraq's security and reconstruction.
"It will be extraordinarily difficult and will dwarf what we did in the Balkans," Col. Feil told AP, referring to the major U.S. role in peacekeeping missions in the former Yugoslavia and in the bombing campaigns to halt aggression by then leader Slobodan Milosevic.
"And we have got to have, as number one priority, control over weapons of mass destruction," he said.
He figured it would cost the United States $16 billion for the postwar security operations in the first year and $1 billion for reconstruction.
"Some people think my numbers are low," he said in a telephone interview, adding that he believes the U.S. military would need 75,000 soldiers on the ground in Iraq after a war, for the first year at least.
"This commitment will put a significant strain on the U.S. military's ability to fight elsewhere at the same time," Col. Feil said.
Former Army Maj. Gen. William Nash concurred, telling AP in an interview that the outlook partly explains why the military is "less than fully enthusiastic" about taking on the job.
The U.S. military would, in the short run, have to take on the role of government and public works department keeping the sewers working, the water flowing, the schools open, and the Iraqi military in their barracks except to do public works and police chores.
As an example of the scale of the task, the oil-for-food program of the United Nations has 46,000 food-distribution points that would need staffing to keep the Iraqi people fed. The program allows Iraq to export oil and use the revenue to import necessities for its population an international attempt to ease the pain of Iraqis, who have been under U.N. sanctions since Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, triggering the Persian Gulf war.
Oil could be key to Iraq's reconstruction, bringing in as much as $30 billion a year within a decade of Saddam's ouster, according to figures provided by Ellen Laipson, president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based Henry L. Stimson Center.
But Col. Feil cautioned that production may be slow to increase because the Iraqi oil industry is held together with "bailing wire" as a result of U.N. sanctions. The country has had difficulty finding spare parts for the industry, let alone importing the latest technology. Furthermore, other oil-producing nations will pressure a post-Saddam Iraq to limit production to keep prices high.
"Some people say all you have to do is open the spigots in the oil fields and there's your reconstruction money. But it's not that simple. At best, the technology in the oil industry is 20 years old," Col. Feil said.
Gen. Nash, who is on the Council on Foreign Relations, said the hardest task would be policing the country.
"You go from being very smart to near blindness," he said, explaining that the military would operate with superlative intelligence on the battlefield, then find itself with virtually none when dealing with political and criminal elements inside the country.
Gen. Nash said the military is concerned about becoming bogged down in Iraq, leaving fewer resources for the larger U.S.-led war on terrorism.
That is why he expects the military to try to hand the post-Saddam administration over to the United Nations as quickly as possible.
Costly as postwar security and reconstruction might be, the war itself will be a budget breaker as well. The Gulf war cost about $61 billion by some estimates, but the United States was mostly reimbursed by allies such as Saudi Arabia and Japan. The coalition going into this fight is expected to be thinner.

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