American Safety in Post-War Iraq

In the last several weeks, the United States” involvement in Iraq has been under close scrutiny in the news. After a successful invasion, the US began the process of rebuilding the nation it tore down. This United States government is making progress, but Iraq is a dangerous place. Young men and women of the Armed Forces are still in harm’s way. Since May 1, the date that President Bush ordered the end of major combat operations in Iraq, 105 Americans have been killed due to hostile fire (USA Today October 23). A full-scale withdrawal of American armed forces is not possible. The United States, as an occupying force, has a responsibility to ensure order and stability in a place where it has created chaos. The war left the Iraqi infrastructure severely damaged and the country without a government. Without some type of occupying authority, Iraq will fall into anarchy. President Bush’s goals for Iraq are “to restore order and bring prosperity to a brutalized society and an infrastructure suffering from decades of malign neglect” (www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/iraq/). These goals remain to be met. Not withstanding these factors, American soldiers are dying every day. The American military must find a safer way to conduct operations in post-war Iraq.

There are several means to this end. The most obvious solution is what New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has called the “More, Better, Faster Method,” and calls for a rapid-fire training of more Iraqi police and better training of the Iraqi military. Friedman theorizes that if these key elements are put into place expediently, America will be able to safely withdraw a significant number of troops, leaving the Iraqis in charge of their own security. While this theory is workable, it carries considerable risk. Consider the danger involved with arming a large number of young Iraqis after only a few weeks of training. The Whitehouse feels that this risk may be acceptable, however, as indigenous forces may be better able to foresee oncoming attacks and other dangers. Additionally, Iraqis “on the street would free up American forces to hunt down the militants [who are attacking them]” (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/30/politics).

A second proposal, suggested on the October 29 episode of CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Reports, is to reinvade the Sunni Triangle. Eighty percent of the attacks on American soldiers are coming from this region of Iraq (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/10/27/ftn/main580231.shtml), and reinvading this area may bring an end to the more coordinated attacks that American troops have had to endure over the last few weeks. This solution may bring an end to attacks, but with considerable difficulties. A reinvasion of this part of Iraq would necessitate a large American force to move into the area. This would mean either bringing more American troops into Iraq or diverting soldiers from reconstruction tasks. When considering the Bush administration’s goals for Iraq, neither of these options look favorable, but both are feasible and may contribute greatly toward making Iraq a safer place.

The next suggestion comes once again from Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. He advocates the expansion of NATO to include Iraq and Egypt. When an independent Iraqi government emerges it will be a fragile one in need of protection. As Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins foreign affairs expert, notes, “Iraq needs an army that is big enough to deter Iran and yet not so big that it could be used to smother Iraqi democracy and threaten the whole neighborhood, the way Saddam’s huge army did.” If Iraq were a member of NATO it could maintain a small army, yet still deter attack. According to Friedman, “The ideal force to serve as the guardian of Iraqi democracy would be a combined Iraqi-multinational force, like NATO, that would also include an Arab-Muslim component [i.e. Egypt].” The inclusion of Iraq in NATO would solve several problems and would facilitate a significant withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. This is a very workable solution, but not an immediately obvious one. It may take some time before NATO is ready to extend an invitation to Iraq.

Finally, America should expedite its efforts to find and detain or kill Saddam Hussein. Many Iraqis are unwilling to cooperate with American forces for fear that Saddam will once again rise to power. Additionally, US officials believe that Saddam Hussein “may be playing a significant role in coordinating and directing attacks by his loyalists against American forces in Iraq,” according to Thursday’s (October 30, 2003) New York Times. Clearly, the capture or death of Saddam Hussein is one of America’s major goals in Iraq. The only drawback is this will once again require more manpower, either from additional troops being brought to Iraq or the diversion of troops from reconstruction.

America has several options for ensuring the safety of troops conducting post-war operations in Iraq. While finding Saddam Hussein and training more Iraqi peacekeepers are both angles that should be pursued, the safest solution is the inclusion of Iraq in NATO. This would allow a massive reduction in the number of American troops in Iraq, and would virtually guarantee protection of the unstable nation.

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