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The insurgency in Iraq has intensified in the past weeks, and national elections are only four months away. The near-constant attacks have the raised question of whether the U.S. can ultimately prevail in Iraq. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell affirmed over the weekend that the United States will stay the course in Iraq and that the insurgency can be defeated. But some American observers are expressing doubts.
Washington, 15 September 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Speaking on American television over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that despite the persistent violence in Iraq, the United States will stay in the country "to finish the work that we started."
He said the U.S. plan to pacify areas of Iraq controlled by insurgents will work. He said halting the insurgency is "not an impossible task."
Powell did not elaborate on the plan, but he didn't need to, according to Jack Spencer, a military affairs analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a private policy-research center in Washington. Spencer told RFE/RL that the plan Powell referred to has been in effect since coalition forces deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in April 2003.
Spencer said the Bush administration's plan has never been to have Americans pacify the country, which he calls impossible. Instead, the U.S. military is trying to give the Iraqis control of their own country -- and their own security -- by helping to establish a democratic system and a robust military.
"The Iraqi people can do it. The United States never would be capable of, itself, defeating any sort of insurgency because, I think, history has shown that's very difficult to do," Spencer said. "The only thing we can do is to help the Iraqi people empower themselves, and that's what we're doing right now, training the Iraqi security forces, removing Saddam Hussein to begin with."
The focus, Spencer said, is on national elections to be held in January. The United States and Iraqi government forces hope to restore a semblance of peace in the country in time for the vote, but there are concerns that they will be unable to -- and that the election may have to be postponed by one month, two months, maybe longer.
Spencer said the election will be essential to empowering Iraqis, but he is less concerned about when it is held, as long as it leads to a representative government.
One troubling aspect of the insurgency is that police stations are often targeted. Among the dead in an attack that took place yesterday, for example, were Iraqi men lined up outside Baghdad's police headquarters to apply for jobs. Some say such attacks could hurt the effort to have Iraqis take responsibility for their country's security.
However, Spencer said, "I think that we've been having these problems for some period of time, and they're still lining up [for police jobs]. And I think that says a lot about the Iraqi people."
A more pessimistic view of the insurgency is held by Leon Fuerth, the vice presidential national security adviser during the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton. Fuerth told RFE/RL that if the plan alluded to by Powell is the same one that has been in place for over a year, then it may be doomed.
Fuerth said that U.S. forces and the current provisional Iraqi government must first reassert political and military control of areas in Iraq where the insurgents wield influence. But he noted that in two prominent confrontations -- in the mostly Sunni Muslim city of Al-Fallujah in April and last month in the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf, they backed down rather than risk a bloody battle.
Both compromises, Fuerth pointed out, have had less than satisfactory results.
Now, Fuerth said, Powell speaks of an unspecified plan, but has not explained whether it will be more of the same strategy, or something more confrontational.
"Does it mean his plan includes actually going forward with an all-out use of force?" Fuerth asked. "And if he does that, will things get better? Or will they get worse because we will just spread hatred and resentment of us. Having opened the door to this, what does Mr. Powell have to say?"
Fuerth said he believes Iraqis are becoming angrier by the day with the Americans, not merely because they believe they are providing inadequate security. He said Iraqis are fiercely nationalistic and are increasingly joining the resistance as they perceive the U.S. presence in their country to be the problem, not the solution.
If Powell is privy to a new plan, Fuerth said, then let him be candid about it. Fuerth said it is about time the Bush administration devised an idea to restore peace to Iraq.
"I would like to believe that somebody's got a bright idea on how to end this on terms that are favorable, but right now that's not visible," Fuerth said. "And Powell's saying that it can be done is just one more in a long line of assertions from the administration where the track record is they have proved to be baseless. So what else is new? What would be new now is to have an assert ion from them that turns out to be accurate."