- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2004

America’s heroic mission to turn Iraq into a free and independent country at peace with its neighbors

has reached a historic turning point with installation of a new government run by Iraqis.

Finally, after months of casualties at the hands of terrorist insurgents and mounting political criticism of President Bush’s handling of the postwar situation in Iraq, the news is much more positive and hopeful. A full month before the handover of governing authority was to occur, a provisional government of Iraqi leaders has been given the reins of power.

The strategic, geopolitical impact of this act cannot be overstated. It tells the Iraqis, much more powerfully than any words can convey, that the United States wants nothing more than to let them run their own lives and choose their own government. It tells the terrorist armies who think they can stop this from happening by killing Iraqis and members of the U.S.-led coalition forces that they have failed — they are no match against the forces of freedom who oppose tyranny and terror.

The televised picture, beamed across Iraq and around the world, of the interim government seated around a large oval table in the Cabinet Room, led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi — a former adversary of Saddam Hussein — spoke volumes. Except for the need to help the Iraqis maintain national security until they are fully able to do so themselves, the United States no longer controls the government. Iraqis are in charge of their destiny.

They are, of course, risking their lives in behalf of their country, just as U.S. soldiers risked theirs to give Iraqis a new birth of freedom. Two members of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which dissolved itself last week to clear the way for the new government, were assassinated, one of them just two weeks ago at the entrance to the heavily guarded Green Zone compound of the new government headquarters.

Taking over the reins of government, Prime Minister Allawi made it plain in his televised remarks to the new Iraqi Cabinet that security continues to be the “No. 1 priority.” And U.S. military forces remain the essential weapon in that fight until an Iraqi army and police forces are fully able to deal with the Iraqi insurgents on their own.

“Yesterday and today, there have been terrorist attacks. As Iraqis, we want to work with the multinational force and with friends and our brothers in the region to defeat these continued threats to Iraq and the Iraqi people,” Mr. Allawi said. “We are sure we will prevail ultimately, and we will win.”

To ensure that day comes, leaders of the new Iraqi government were working at the United Nations on the wording of a resolution to help codify the process toward complete autonomy and, ultimately, free elections.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari made the case for his country’s full sovereignty at the United Nations last week and a larger international force to help made Iraq safer for democratic elections. In other words, they want to take over responsibility for Iraq’s security eventually, but they know they are not ready for that just yet.

When will the United States be able to begin withdrawing its military forces from Iraq? It would be irresponsible at this point to set a date, and the United Nations will not include a time certain in its resolution. But it is generally agreed the troop withdrawal will begin sometime after the Iraqis adopt a new constitution and hold free elections to install a representative government, probably sometime in 2005.

On the way to that point, the U.N. envoy in Baghdad, Lakhdar Brahimi, says some 60 Iraqi leaders want to hold a national conference in July to choose an interim representative chamber with some legislative powers.

Not a bad idea. The more Iraqis can be brought into the governing process, the better. A quasi-legislative chamber, not unlike our Continental Congress in the Revolutionary War, would give Iraqis some further role in the provisional governing council’s actions on the way to an elected government.

None of this means there will be no more attacks on our forces and on Iraqi leaders in the weeks and months to come.

As President Bush remarked last week, we can expect more violence as the insurgents attempt to derail the movement toward a democratically elected government. But Mr. Allawi is right when he says the terrorists are doomed to fail.

Thanks to the United States, the Iraqis have been given the freedom to make a new life for themselves, and no terrorist force is going to take that away from them now.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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