- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The assassination of the Iraqi Governing Council’s president raises disturbing new questions about whether the United States will ever be able to make Iraq safe for democracy.

The suicide car-bombing at the entrance to the U.S.-controlled occupation compound known as the Green Zone, which claimed the life of Izzadine Saleem, was a huge victory for the anti-occupation terrorists. It also appears to be a setback for our plans to turn over governing authority to the Iraqis by June 30.

If the United States cannot protect the Iraqis who are ready to take over the reins of government, how can the rest of the country be expected to follow their leadership and assume dangerous positions of authority in a new interim governing system scheduled to begin in six weeks? The answer to that question, posed by many Iraqis, has not been clearly reported in the last few days.

Saleem could have been alive today if he had chosen to rely on U.S. security assistance instead of his own personal security that included cousins and nephews. The U.S. provides Iraqi council officials with special assistance, body and vehicle armor and special training, which Saleem refused; “his choice,” said Dan Senor, the U.S. occupation command’s chief spokesman.

None of Saleem’s security detail had undergone any of the special U.S. security training programs that might have helped to save him from the bomb-laden Volkswagen Passat that was pulled out of line and exploded.

But the cold reality of the situation facing us in Iraq is that we have no other alternative but to meet the fast-approaching June 30 deadline to turn over the country to an interim government in preparation for the national elections to come.

The insurgents must not be allowed to dictate Iraq’s future through intimidation and terror. The democratic process of putting together a new government must be seen by all Iraqis — especially the insurgents — as unstoppable. And that is what is going to happen in the weeks ahead. Here’s why:

cIn a well-educated nation of more than 22 million people, there are more Iraqis who want freedom and democracy, according to an ABC News poll, than the relatively small army of insurgents and foreign terrorists who are committing the attacks on Iraqi civilians and U.S. coalition forces.

Iraqis want to run their own country, and no amount of terrorist acts is going to prevent the majority’s will from prevailing.

cAnd there are plenty of Iraqis ready to assume responsibility for their country’s future. Iraqi Governing Council member Ghazi Yawar was set to automatically become council president on June 1, but now he will step into that role immediately.

These are people who have assumed leadership roles in their country and are fully capable of running its central government.

But is it possible to govern a country that is under constant attack from terrorists, where any Iraqi who dares to cooperate with us is targeted for death? For that answer, the Iraqis can look for inspiration to a number of other countries that have struggled against terrorist forces and have either overcome them or held them at bay.

Israel and Egypt could teach the Iraqis about governing in the face of terrorism.

The Israelis have had to deal with suicide bombers, gunmen and other attacks on civilians on an almost weekly basis, but it has not stopped them from having elections, growing their economy and becoming a major power in the Middle East. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been fighting radical Islamic elements in his country ever since the assassination of Anwar Sadat, but has managed to contain them.

If the June 30 transfer of governing authority is to have any hope of succeeding, it’s going to require an increased level of military security for its leaders and a much more visible offensive against the terrorists by Iraqi forces themselves.

The war for Iraq’s freedom must be defined as a war by Iraqi patriots against Iraqi thugs and criminals and foreign (i.e.: Syrian and Iranian) invaders. That is the strategic war message the U.S. coalition must begin to emphasize to rally the Iraqi people behind the new government that will soon take over. There can be no turning back now.

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

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