- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Iraq’s U.S. representative, Rend Rahim, said yesterday the interim government in Baghdad would have to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis, which the U.S.-led coalition authority failed to do, if it wants to end the terrorists’ stranglehold of the country.

She also cautioned both Baghdad and Washington against having overly high expectations on what the new leadership would be able to achieve in the short term.

“This is a very exciting but also very frightening time,” Mrs. Rahim said in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute.

She recalled that in May 2003 similarly high expectations existed that Iraq would overnight become prosperous and stable. “That proved difficult to fulfill and resulted in a backlash of frustration on all sides.

“The Iraq government must do what the Coalition Provisional Authority conspicuously did not, which is to win hearts and minds.”

The first step in that battle, she said, was to convince Iraqis that the terrorists’ primary target is them — not U.S. or multinational forces.

“This has to be a national battle … by civilians as well as those in uniform,” Mrs. Rahim said.

“Iraqis unfortunately are bearing the brunt of terrorism, and in a way, Iraq has become terrorism’s last stand — I think this is where terrorism will be defeated.”

The fight will be a tough one. Although the surprise transition ceremony — held two days before originally scheduled — foiled any attempts to disrupt the process, security officials in Iraq still are bracing for a wave of bloody strikes this week.

Hotels where U.S. contractors live are on high alert, international companies have been hoarding essential supplies in the event supply routes are interrupted, and Iraqis are expecting increased attacks.

“Incidents of violence are still likely to go ahead,” a report on Iraq by the British security firm AKE stated yesterday. “It is unlikely that any large-scale plans on the part of the insurgent and terrorist elements within Iraq will be scuttled.”

Mrs. Rahim, who is expected to be named Iraq’s new ambassador to the Untied States, said the leadership also would have to build an inclusive political process, rethink the strategy for rebuilding Iraq and get international financial help if it is to succeed.

While the CPA had focused on high-tech, high-capital projects in Iraq that Iraqis generally did not have the skills to fulfill, the new leadership “must concentrate on labor-intensive projects” that would put money in people’s pockets, she said.

Mrs. Rahim also praised Iraq’s Kurdish population for its political thinking, which she said had helped “shape our approach to the international community and the Iraqi political process.”

There has been considerable tension in the Kurdish-majority areas in northern Iraq — largely independent under Saddam Hussein in the 1990s — who feel that their needs were not adequately represented in the latest United Nations Security Council resolution.

“We all recognize the enormous contribution the Kurds have made,” she said. “We are going to have to work together and everyone is going to have to negotiate and work together, and we are going to do that.”

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