- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003

American ground forces increasingly are shedding combat roles and taking on the job of running Iraq in an occupation of a kind not seen since the United States democratized Japan and Germany.

In recent weeks, commanders have redirected a larger share of the U.S. troops in Iraq to the chores that accompany controlling and operating any large city such as Baghdad: patrolling the streets, staffing prisons, guarding valuable real estate, imposing gun control, restoring electricity and water distribution, and supervising trash collection.

“For the U.S. military to be occupying a country, trying to take charge of basic services, trying to keep order, really trying to make the country work from scratch, this is something we haven’t seen since the 1940s,” said Thomas Carothers, a foreign-policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former legal adviser to the State Department.

In some ways, Mr. Carothers said, the task for the U.S. military in Iraq, a country of more than 20 million, is more daunting than that faced by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Japan 58 years ago. Unlike Iraq, Japan was a more unified society and had a fairly vibrant economy, with people who knew how to run it.

“I think we are just going to see a long, slow road to reconstruction,” Mr. Carothers said. “Nothing will happen fast. There will be gradual improvements.”

The U.S. initially stationed 450,000 troops in occupied Japan, then a country of 72 million. It steadily reduced the troop number during the seven-year occupation that, unlike Iraq, saw virtually no Japanese opposition.

The major shift in U.S. military operations comes about a month after coalition troops captured Saddam Hussein’s last stronghold, Tikrit, a place where Army soldiers still are rooting out the last bastions of his Ba’ath Party operatives.

In Baghdad, a city of more than 5 million, the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division is sending home some heavy weapons, such as artillery pieces, as its aim now is winning the peace, neighborhood by neighborhood.

“We are a police force now,” Maj. Gen. Buford Blount III, the 3rd Infantry commander, told reporters recently. His division of 20,000 soldiers “has transitioned from combat to a security force to help the people of Baghdad,” he said.

There are now 150,000 U.S. ground troops in Iraq, up by several thousand since the war ended. A military police force of 2,000 will double by month’s end.

Pentagon sources say the force number eventually will begin declining, as more of the country is stabilized and elements of the 3rd Division, some of which have been in theater since September, are sent home. The 1st Armored Division in Germany will take on some of the 3rd’s missions.

Gen. Michael Hagee, the Marine Corps commandant, told reporters yesterday that all 60,000 Marines sent to the Persian Gulf area for Operation Iraqi Freedom will leave soon. “We have plans to come out this summer,” said Gen. Hagee, according to Reuters news agency.

Gen. Tommy Franks, the overall U.S. commander in the Gulf, and L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, are studying troops levels. The two are counting on allied nations to provide troops to replace Marines in southern Iraq.

“We’ve had many nations stand up, not just in Europe, but essentially around the world that want to contribute to the stability operations in Iraq,” Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, said this week. “So I don’t think the number of troops is going to be the issue.”

In recent weeks, Gen. Blount has put more soldiers on the street, as threats diminish from regular Iraqi military or from paramilitary, such as the Fedayeen Saddam. The military has set up a unit called Task Force Neighborhood that attempts to clean up Baghdad, block by block. The teams include police, civil engineers and doctors, who pick up garbage, collect ordnance, and deliver medical assistance.

Other teams are guarding crucial infrastructure, such as refineries, gas stations and fuel trucks. Still others participate in about 1,000 street patrols daily, accompanied by the burgeoning Baghdad police force.

Mr. Carothers said the focus on municipal duties reflects Mr. Bremer’s immediate goals.

“It’s clearly proven much more difficult than expected,” he said. “When Paul Bremer came in, he’s been trying to get back to basics. Let’s get the security situation under control. Let’s put off the political process a bit. No need to rush, his view, to Iraqi authority. Let’s treat this more like what it is — a U.S. occupation of a broken country.”

An Army officer said in an interview that despite negative articles in the U.S. press about Baghdad’s reaction to the occupation, the vast majority of Iraqis gladly accept the American presence.

“Only those that accompany troops on patrol see a different reaction of the population from those reporters that write their stories from the Palestine Hotel,” said the officer, who asked not to be named. “In the hotel, they cook up stories of chaos and animosity toward our troops. The truth is that 99 percent of the locals are glad we’re there.”

Still, pockets of resistance remain. Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, the most senior U.S. officer in Iraq, announced last week that his forces will soon institute a gun-control policy that is expected to force many citizens to turn over AK-47s and other weapons.

“We are in the final stages of formulating a weapons policy to put rules on who can and cannot possess a weapon,” Gen. McKiernan said. “We want to get explosives and AKs out of the wrong hands.”

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