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Hard Part Will Be Waging Peace in Iraq

Ethnic divisions preclude a 'light' intervention.

November 27, 2002|Jonathan Levitsky | Jonathan Levitsky was counselor to the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. from 1999 to 2001 and supervised Balkans issues.

As the likelihood of war with Iraq increases, the time has come for the president to speak more clearly about how we will win the peace.

The Bush administration has said little other than that the United States will help rebuild Iraq as a stable democracy. Options apparently range from a "light" intervention and a quick handoff to local authorities to a U.S. military governorship styled after postwar Germany and Japan. But there is more recent history the administration should turn to for guidance: the challenges the Clinton administration faced in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s.

Riven by ethnic and religious divisions that have long been suppressed by a powerful central government, the situation in Iraq bears important similarities to the Balkans before Yugoslavia's breakup. Here is what the U.S. will face the day after Saddam Hussein is gone:

The Kurds in the north will wish to enhance the autonomy they have developed under the protection of the U.S./British- enforced "no-fly" zones and perhaps even aspire to independence. The repressed Shiites in the south, a majority in the nation, will seek a greater voice in government, and some may desire closer ties with Iran. Smaller groups, such as Turkoman and Christian sects, may come under threat. And all will resist continued rule by the Sunni minority, with or without Hussein.

Under these circumstances, ideas for a "light" intervention seem profoundly misguided.

Building a functioning state in postwar Iraq, much less a tolerant and democratic society, will not be quick or easy. Seven years after the Dayton peace accords ended the brutal war in Bosnia, and more than three years after the conclusion of the conflict in Kosovo, enormous progress has been made. But the international community's task will not be complete for years.

Iraq's government will need to be rebuilt from the ground up, based on principles of federalism to accommodate ethnic and religious divisions, but with central institutions strong enough to hold the nation together. Designing these institutions, gaining Iraqi support for them, holding elections and mediating disputes will require years of international supervision.

Ensuring that Iraqis do not threaten each other or their neighbors and that Iraq does not become a failed state and terrorist haven will require a massive international security force at the start. Troops will need to remain, at reduced levels, for many years.

To succeed, the effort to rebuild Iraq must be truly multilateral. International administrators will be there for a long time, and it is critical that they be seen as legitimate by the Iraqis and the other people of the region.

Broad international participation under U.S. leadership is necessary to achieve this goal. NATO allies should play a key role, with regional powers as part of the postwar coalition. Russia and France, whose attitudes toward the conflict we can expect to be at best ambivalent, should know they will be welcome in building the peace. The U.N. Security Council's blessing would help, though we should avoid the bureaucracy and loss of control that come with creating a U.N. peacekeeping mission.

Our partners can be important contributors to the postwar military force, freeing American troops for other duties. And their support in building a civilian administration is critical.

In Kosovo and Bosnia, it took far too long for civilian capacity to catch up with the military presence, and that was with the help of experts provided by partners around the world.

We will need the same assistance in Iraq, in areas ranging from police to elections and judicial reform. The administration's recent efforts to reach out for support are a good first step. But these gestures will fall short unless followed up with meaningful engagement of partners.

Clearly defining our plans for a viable end to the conflict, one that includes a deep role for allies and partners, will help gather backing for the war from those who might otherwise doubt our intentions. And it is our best chance for success at the far more difficult job of winning the peace.

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