- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Who better to sum up the importance of the news of Monday’s transfer of power in Iraq than British Prime Minister Winston Churchill? When Churchill uttered these words, it was 1942 and the Allies were fighting the Germans in Egypt. There were three more years to go before World War II would be over.

It would be nice to think that we can see the end of the U.S. deployment in Iraq, but that’s yet too soon. What we can do is applaud the transfer of authority to Iraqis, which is movement in the right direction at least. Power was transferred from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the new interim government twodaysbefore planned, a crucial step toward rebuilding the country and achieving autonomy for its people. After all the ups and downs of the past year, and the escalating violence aimed at derailing the political process and driving Americans out, this was an extremely important day for Iraqis and coalition forces alike.

The United States never set out to be an occupying power in Iraq, and it is not a role at which we have proven very adept. Our goal was to remove Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and to eliminate Saddam Hussein as a threat to the United States and others. The weapons programs have been eliminated, even if no stockpiles have been found, and Saddam today will be handed over to the tender mercies of the new Iraqi judicial authority for prosecution. After decades of terror and torture, he has a lot to answer to his own people for.

A crowning achievement would be the establishment of a more or less democratic system of governance in Iraq, and an important step in that direction was the transfer of authority to the interim government, which will be in charge of drafting a constitution and scheduling elections. Most importantly, the interim government enjoys widespread support among Iraqis. “After decades of brutal rule by a terror regime, the Iraqi people have their country back,” said President Bush, while attending the summit of NATO leaders in Istanbul, Turkey. For all the criticism and suspicion of U.S. motives in Iraq, here is proof once more that imperialism is not the American way.

Another encouraging development yesterday was the agreement reached in Istanbul to give the alliance a role in Iraq’s reconstruction. This has been a major goal for the Bush administration — and a step strongly advocated by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry as well. Involving NATO helps to internationalize Iraq’s reconstruction and extends to Iraq an international umbrella separate from that of the United Nations.

Equally important, it shows that NATO still deserves to be called an “alliance” — even if it seems sometimes that this is just barely the case. The alliance has been on life support since the fateful row broke out in January 2003 — before the military action in Iraq — over whether NATO should assist Turkey in planing for military contingencies in the case of war. France, Germany and Belgium fiercely opposed this idea.

Specifically, in Istanbul, the alliance’s leaders accepted an eloquent request from Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi for NATO training of Iraq’s armed forces. Mr. Allawi is now in charge of a pretty rag-tag force of 250,000 and badly needs help with the training of troops, police and border patrols. This is essential if we are ever going to hand the security of Iraq over to Iraqis themselves, which remains the goal.

Typically, however, rather than look at the big picture and the good of the Iraqi people, the leaders of France and Germany chose to make the decision difficult by insisting that the Iraqis cannot be trained in Iraq. The reason is that the French and the Germans do not want the NATO flag to be flying in Iraq, a point of principle that leads to a nonsensical situation on the ground. Of course, the Iraqis should be trained where they will have to operate, and moving them elsewhere would cost far more. Similarly, internal NATO differences remain over the European contribution to Afghanistan, where the NATO flag is indeed flying, but Americans provide by far the greater bulk of the forces on the ground.

There’s tough sledding still ahead, no doubt about it, and Americans will continue to do most of the hard work, even if we have “allies” with us. Right now, however, let us take a deep breath, allow ourselves a moment of celebration, and hope for a better Iraq.

Helle Dale is director of Foreign Policy and Defense Studies at the Heritage Foundation. E-mail: helle.dale@heritage.org.

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