Accessibility links

Iraq: Analysts Welcome Reported Tough New U.S. Policy

  • Andrew Tully

The new U.S. administrator for postwar Iraq is said to have decided to battle crime in the country by authorizing occupation forces to shoot looters and other lawbreakers on sight. Analysts say that the decision is essential if the United States is to help Iraqis establish their own government.

Washington, 15 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Analysts are applauding the reported decision by L. Paul Bremer, the new chief of the U.S. administration in Iraq, to shoot lawbreakers on sight in an effort to bring security to the country.

It has been more than a month since Saddam Hussein was deposed as president of Iraq, but many of his former subjects have persisted in an orgy of looting, hijacking automobiles, and using assaults and murder to settle old political and personal scores.

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has promised to help the Iraqis establish a pluralistic democracy, but have yet to move beyond the struggle to restore order.

On 12 May, Bremer took over, replacing retired U.S. Army Major General Jay Garner. The next day, he told his staff that he would be cracking down on the civil unrest by giving U.S. forces in Iraq the authority to shoot violent lawbreakers on sight, according to a report in "The New York Times" yesterday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirmed elements of the new strategy in testimony yesterday before a congressional panel. But an article in "The Washington Post" today cites U.S. military officers in Iraq as saying there have been no changes in the military rules of engagement.

Major General Buford Blount, the commander of the 3rd Infantry Division based in Baghdad, is quoted as saying, "Unless the soldier's life is threatened, we're not going out aggressively shooting looters."

Whether or not the report is true, international affairs analysts interviewed by RFE/RL say the Americans cannot begin to move toward a functioning government of Iraqis until the administration addresses their basic needs.

Paramount among these needs is security, according to Anthony Cordesman, who specializes in military and Middle East issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private policy research center in Washington.

"The absolute criteria to begin anything are security, food, income. Human beings need an absolute minimum of stability to function. So far, none of those criteria have been met, particularly when you look at this on a national level," Cordesman told RFE/RL.

Cordesman noted that Iraqis will not be able to earn money and thereby help restore their economy unless they feel safe enough to leave their homes and go to workplaces that have not been looted or destroyed.

Bremer's decision to take harsher action against lawbreakers is welcome, according to Danielle Pletka, the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, another Washington think tank. She told RFE/RL: "This is something that should have been done in the first place. You cannot go into a police state, take away the police, and expect that everybody will behave like an angel. To argue that somehow our forces cannot engage in civil keeping of the peace is very self-defeating."

Kenneth Allard agrees. He is a retired U.S. Army colonel who worked as an intelligence officer in the Balkans, Western Europe, and Africa. In an interview with RFE/RL, he said the Bush administration's skillful conduct of the war in Iraq was not followed by a similarly well-planned and well-coordinated effort to reconstruct Iraq.

Allard, now an analyst with the CSIS, expressed surprise that the U.S. administration under Garner was reluctant to be harsh with looters and other criminals. "Looters shot on sight is not a new concept at all. You know what worries me the most? It is the fact that, [it's] one month into that [occupation], and now we decided to get tough. I mean, that's precisely the wrong strategy," Allard said.

Thomas Carothers is the co-director of the democracy and rule of law project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, another policy center in Washington. He, too, believes that security is what Iraqis most want from the Americans, and that Bremer is right to toughen the U.S. military's rules of engagement in Iraq.

But Carothers said he believes Bremer wants more to warn Iraqis of harsh consequences than actually to exercise them. He said he hopes American troops limit any shooting to lawbreakers who are themselves engaging in deadly force.

Carothers also recommended that Bremer strengthen his staff of translators and others who can help communicate with people whose culture is so unlike that of the West.

"If the forces of order can communicate with the people they're trying to keep in order, it's going to go a lot better," Carothers said. "I mean, military police can do their business without necessarily having the language skills. But more generally, we [U.S. administrators] have a shortage of people in the occupying forces who can really communicate with Iraqis. It hurts you more when you're an adviser to the ministry or something like that and you need to be a day-to-day presence with Iraqis and need to communicate with them."

However, Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute said she finds this suggestion worthless. "The entire premise is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. What do you mean, we don't have enough translators? So what? We shouldn't have invaded? We shouldn't have set up a postwar administration? I don't understand," she said.

According to Pletka, the best way for the United States to have dealt with the Iraqis on their own terms would have been to put more resources into helping Iraqi opposition leaders living in exile prepare to lead a government in Baghdad after the fall of Hussein.

Pletka did not name any of these exiles, but Ahmad Chalabi of the London-based Iraqi National Congress is favored by some in the U.S. Defense Department to be Iraq's next leader. She said some officials in the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency opposed these exile groups and sought to discredit them.

Allard of the CSIS said the Defense Department, which is in charge of postwar Iraq, should have consulted with the State Department on setting up an occupation administration.

According to Allard, Secretary of State Colin Powell, who once was America's top general, could have provided great insight to organizing both the civil and military aspects of guiding Iraq through the transition from a dictatorship to a democracy.

"Colin Powell is in a position to have learned and understood the kinds of things that can go wrong. We've had some decent nation-building experience, and we might have learned something. But it just doesn't help the problem for the State Department to have one idea, the Defense Department to have another, and for the [Bush] administration as a whole to have the idea that nation building is not something we do. Yes, [it is something] we do," Allard said.

Allard said he hopes Bremer is not acting too late to restore order in Iraq so that the complicated process of nation building can begin in earnest.