- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

Iraqis took another step toward freedom yesterday, when Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and his colleagues each placed a hand on the Koran and promised to serve the people of Iraq. The ceremony came two days before the scheduled June 30 deadline and almost 15 months after the fall of longtime dictator Saddam Hussein. What happens over the course of the next six months will reveal whether U.S. efforts were successful. Ambassador John Negroponte will indeed have his hands full leading up to the proposed Iraqi elections in January.

The decision to move up the transfer, which was apparently requested by Mr. Allawi, came in response to concerns that insurgents would attempt to sabotage things. Mr. Allawi, who has raised the prospect of imposing martial law to end the violence, is calling on NATO to provide assistance in training a new Iraqi security force — a topic being discussed at the NATO parley, which concludes today in Istanbul.

Since President Bush made the fateful decision to depose Saddam, a great deal has been accomplished in Iraq. A cruel dictatorship, which, conservatively speaking, murdered hundreds of thousands of its own people is gone. Saddam is in jail, and the new Iraqi government is expected to take custody of him as early as this week. Most of the 55 war criminals featured in the famous deck of cards are dead or in custody. The era of rape rooms, torture chambers, acid baths and mass graves is over. The weapons-of-mass-destruction infrastructure that had been documented by the United Nations is gone. The Iraqi government is no longer providing safe haven and funding to a who’s who of international terror groups, as was the case under Saddam. If the insurgency can be defeated, the Iraqi people have a chance to build a new society with more civil rights and political freedom than exists anywhere in the Arab world.

But the American administration of Iraq — headed by L. Paul Bremer III — was itself marred by examples of poor planning and missed opportunities. The lack of a unified command of our military and civilian activities in Iraq led to myriad examples of bureaucratic infighting and incompetence in areas such as procurement. The security situation worsened because of the failure to bring in sufficient troops early on to defeat the insurgency and the failure to train adequate numbers of Iraqis to perform military and police duties. Mr. Bremer’s reluctance to give budgetary authority to local Iraqi councils made it impossible for them to respond to concerns about inadequate public services — stigmatizing them as little more than figureheads. In short, both military and civilian types complained that Mr. Bremer was hidden in the palace and did not listen enough.

Still, there have been a number of hopeful signs in recent days, including the military defeat of radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the man responsible for much of the violence in Karbala and Najaf in recent months. Moreover, many Iraqis — even including Mr. Sadr — have denounced the insurgency and violence in general. In addition, France and Germany have dropped their opposition to a larger role for NATO in helping Iraqis stabilize their country.

It is imperative that democracy succeed in Iraq. As we move forward, Mr. Negroponte will more than have his hands full. More, not less, American troops will be useful. The next several months will tell whether our strategic efforts have meant success or failure. Importantly, Mr. Allawi and his colleagues deserve strong support from the United States and fellow democracies.

The Bush administration will have to be compassionate where necessary and ruthless where necessary to ensure Iraq has successful elections in January.

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