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Pace of Iraq Change Is Key

November 13, 2003

Suicide attacks. The destruction of homes of the families of suspected terrorists. A frustrated military leadership, filling the void left by a stalled political process. This portrait of the Israeli army's escalating conflict with Palestinians also comes too close to describing the United States' growing predicament in Iraq.

The White House summoned civilian Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer III for high-level meetings Tuesday and Wednesday. Almost on cue, two vehicles crashed into Italian military police headquarters in Nasiriya on Wednesday, killing at least 26 people and further illustrating the vulnerability of the coalition forces. The new dose of bad news certainly kept Bremer's meeting focused.

White House officials hoping to speed up the transfer of political power to Iraqis worry that Iraqis are falling behind on writing their interim constitution that would lead to local and national elections. The Iraqi Governing Council of Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni representatives is moving at a glacial pace. Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, complains that a monthly rotation of the Governing Council's presidency has prompted Iraqi leaders to go abroad and enjoy being treated as celebrities while neglecting the tough task of getting their country on its feet.

Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, correctly observed Tuesday, "What also needs to come along is

Bremer said Wednesday that he has "made proposals to transfer more power" to the Governing Council. The return of sovereignty, while necessary, should not serve as a smokescreen for pulling out U.S. troops before an internally divided Iraqi leadership can stand on its own.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) noted in a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations last week that quicker training of Iraqis may fall short of what's needed: "When the United States announces a schedule for training and deploying Iraqi security officers, then announces the acceleration of that schedule, then accelerates it again, it sends a signal of desperation, not certitude," McCain said. In mid-October, the number of Iraqis listed as being in security jobs was 85,000. As of Monday, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice put the number at 118,000, and Myers said it was 131,000 on Tuesday.

No matter what the real number, putting guns in the hands of teenagers after a few weeks of training is a poor substitute for seasoned soldiers. More effort needs to go into luring back former Iraqi troops who were not key parts of Saddam Hussein's brutal repression. Having brought war to Iraq, Bush has no alternative but to leave U.S. soldiers in harm's way until it can be honestly ended, or at least until more nations can be persuaded to help bring peace. Bremer's meeting in Washington suggests the administration recognizes the gravity of the choices to be made. Better to grapple with reality than to bluster that there's no cause for alarm.

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