- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2003

The latest carnage at United Nations headquarters in Baghdad and the daily attacks on American forces throughout Iraq only confirm what many in that region have been saying for months — if there is ever to be peace in Iraq, Arabs, not Westerners, must quickly replace Coalition forces. Even Iraqi leaders who supported efforts to topple Saddam Hussein’s bloody regime say it is time for the U.S. to take a less visible role and turn over reconstruction efforts to Arab nationalists.

If administration officials ever hope to succeed in Iraq, they should heed the advice of David Bossie, who recently authored a Washington Times op-ed on the subject. He wrote: “U.S. policy in the Middle East requires an immediate face-lift and that new face should be an Arab — not a young soldier from Alabama. The sooner that makeover begins, the sooner the daily blood-letting of Americans will cease, the Iraqi people will be the masters of their own destiny.”

The notion of integrating Arabs into the larger pacification and reconstruction efforts within Iraq, both militarily and commercially, is critical, not just to solving the immediate problems that exist in that war-worn country, but to a long-term solution throughout the Middle East. Those opinions are based on recent real-world experiences. They are not an idea plucked from the press.

I know because last month I had the privilege of being part of a small exploratory team that went to Lebanon to meet with three prominent sheikhs representing 55 tribes from the Al Anbar region of Iraq. The sheikhs asked for the meeting to solve problems in their area of Iraq, one which accounts for nearly one-third of the land mass and some 25 percent of the total population of the country.

The sheikhs went to great lengths in order to meet our team in Lebanon. All three had to coordinate with Jordan, Syria and Lebanon in order to secure unobstructed cross-country passage over endless desert roads. The room where we met was beautifully decorated in gold leaf trim, in sharp contrast to their rugged demeanor — ramrod straight, sun-weathered dark skin, piercing eyes and a look that showed they were accustomed to commanding respect. These were men of substance, not to be taken lightly.

After customary introductions, the sheikhs related the current situation in Iraq, especially in their home towns. They were elated that Saddam Hussein was no longer in power but surprised he hadn’t been found as yet. They were frustrated, however, with some U.S. security operations in their area — in particular, checkpoints the military had set up which stopped everyone for body and vehicle searches. While this may seem like a minor inconvenience, to many Iraqis, searches of these kinds — especially of women — are an insult. The sheikhs also complained that gold that was being confiscated from private individuals and homes in the belief it could be Saddam’s gold or terrorism money. The men explained that Iraqi banks are too unstable — along with everything else. So, many Iraqis, like some Americans, hide gold in their homes for emergencies or survival. Those were just two problems highlighted by the Iraqi leaders. Nonetheless, they are important ones that, left unanswered, will continue to drive a wedge into the already strained relationship between friendly Iraqis and U.S. forces.

Mr. Bossie’s article spoke of using Middle Easterners to accomplish some of the missions in Iraq. That is also what the sheikhs proposed: to use Iraqis to not just secure but rebuild theirnation,andinthe process, take U.S. soldiers out of the cross hairs of Saddam’s “dead-enders.” The sheikhs expressed their desire to offer assistance in securing their areas and ridding them of insurgents or anti-American resistance. In order to accomplish that, however, they stressed the importance of official U.S. recognition of their leadership status. As Mr. Bossie noted, these tribal chiefs represent the “oldest form of governance” in Iraq, and it is in America’s best interests to develop a partnership with them.

Clearly, there needs be an American-Lebanese?Iraqi effort that capitalizes on the entrepreneurial skills of the Lebanese and the local cross-cultural knowledge and workforce potential of the Iraqis. There are large numbers of formerU.S.ArmyGreen Berets and former Lebanese military personnel who are willing and ready to provide security and force protection consultation while serving as liaisons to U.S. military forces. This effort would reduce the American presence on the streets, create a much-needed buffer between the Iraqi people and U.S. forces, facilitate the collection of information on “bad guys” and give Iraq the much-needed financial and commercial support it desperately needs. This joint operation could use the Al Anbar region as a pilot program, and, based on the success of the mission, establish similar efforts throughout the country.

The people of Iraq want to be involved in their future, and with the entire Arab world watching, we could allow them to do just that, while providing protection to our soldiers and forging a new policy in the Middle East. In short, we urgently need to put Middle Easterners in our Middle East policy before one more U.S. soldier dies performing the duties an Arab can and should be doing.

Bob Bevelacqua is a former Special Forces Officer.

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