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Good Cop, Bad Cop in Iraq

June 18, 2003

Though it's unrealistic to expect citizens of any land to cozy up to a conquering army, U.S. soldiers, somewhat belatedly, are learning and applying beneficial new tactics in dealing with civilians in Iraq. Even as snipers and land mines continue to kill and maim troops nearly seven weeks after the end of heavy fighting, U.S. forces are proving tactically adept in balancing the firing of machine guns with providing water and gasoline. There's a long way to go in rebuilding the mess Saddam Hussein left of Iraq, and smart, flexible approaches -- not just brute force -- will work best.

Since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major combat operations, Iraqis have killed more than 40 Americans, many in attacks by reputed remnants of Hussein's Baath Party. Last week, U.S. forces responded with a nationwide crackdown that killed nearly 100 Iraqis. Then, on Sunday, Americans in many towns provided gasoline for Iraqis as a goodwill gesture.

In Fallouja, pro-Hussein sentiment led to Iraqi attacks that prompted a U.S. troop reinforcement with tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. A sign at a market in the central Iraqi town urged residents to avoid cooperation "with the nonbeliever coalition troops."

To undercut that sentiment, Americans last week met with local civilian and religious leaders to hear their complaints. In a smart gesture, the U.S. forces agreed to change procedures. Changes include using vehicles lighter than tanks for routine patrols; tanks tear up asphalt softened by midday heat. The caveat: Tanks will still be used in military operations. But they'll be back patrolling only if Americans are targeted. Since the meeting, Fallouja has calmed down.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday July 01, 2003 Home Edition California Part B Page 12 Editorial Pages Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Casualties -- A June 18 editorial incorrectly said Iraqis had killed more than 40 Americans since May 1. The number was much less than that. From May 1 to June 29, 22 Americans were killed in enemy attacks and 40 died from other causes.

Tamping down unreasonable expectations and actions on both sides will be vital in this ongoing mission. Residents of Baghdad and other cities wonder why a force that could win a war in weeks cannot guarantee around-the-clock electricity and get oil wells back in operation. These complaints anger troops who see Iraqis as ingrates and are especially galling to young soldiers who yearn to go home -- and not to occupy a distant land. Combine those emotions with scorching heat and little wonder that troops are testy and may be tempted to shove back or shoot too quickly at the Iraqis.

The Bush administration knew it would not be easy to rebuild Iraq; after Hussein's regime fell, looting, shooting and chaos erupted in Baghdad and other cities, forcing the Pentagon to increase troop strength. Getting allies to provide more peacekeeping and reconstruction help, swiftly, would be good. For now, the soldiers need to get better intelligence more quickly to root out Hussein cronies. This would provide more protection for the forces and make it easier for Iraq to recover from decades of dictatorship and war.

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