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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

Leaders' Control Over Security Unclear

Subduing insurgents is crucial to rebuilding. Baghdad's forces remain unprepared, but Allawi may influence the U.S.

June 02, 2004|Alissa J. Rubin | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The main challenge facing Iraq's new leadership was evident here Tuesday.

As guests gathered in the heavily fortified American compound to celebrate the newly formed government, a bomb exploded in central Baghdad, killing at least three people and injuring 25. An explosion killed 11 others near Bayji, about 150 miles north of the capital.

The interim government faces an array of troubles, but for most Iraqis, security tops the list of problems the new leaders need to fix.

Security is key to rebuilding the nation, creating jobs and, ultimately, holding elections.

"The only way to get rid of the insurgency -- and it won't be easy now that the genie is out of the bottle -- is to have an active reconstruction and elections," said Joost Hiltermann, director of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group's Jordan office, who has worked extensively in Iraq.

"But the lack of security militates against reconstruction, because people who are critical to it either have left the country or don't feel able to do their job. So things don't get done, and that further feeds anger, insurgency and instability," he added.

It is unclear how much control the incoming government will have over security decisions.

At Tuesday's ceremony introducing the caretaker government, Iraq's newly named Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said that his country, "God willing, will be a major partner in this force which will start its mission after June 30, and we will kick off negotiations with our allies to arrange security agreements for the interest of Iraq based on the premise of full Iraqi sovereignty."

The issue is expected to be debated within the United Nations Security Council when it meets in New York this month to discuss the terms under which the United States will maintain a presence in Iraq.

Iraq's security forces include 2,000 army troops, 75,000 police, 25,000 Civil Defense Corps personnel and 100,000 guards, according to Reuters news agency. Iraqi forces remain weak, inadequately trained and ill-prepared to confront an increasingly violent insurgency.

Analysts agree that the most effective security forces in Iraq belong to the United States. Since Allawi and the deputy prime minister for security, Barham Salih, are close to the United States, there is little reason to believe they would sideline U.S. forces.

But both men are likely to insist on a greater role for Iraqis in shaping the Americans' security strategy.

Many Iraqis want assurances that the Iraqis will be able to stop the United States from using its firepower in confrontations such as the one last month in Fallouja.

Allawi said Tuesday he would like to facilitate the return of some former military officers to work -- in part by offering better pay.

If Iraq becomes more secure, that will increase the chances of having elections in 2005. That could cut both ways for the new government. Many of its members might not win in a popular contest.

"They will have to balance their needs for independence and their need for a multinational force to stay to help give them security," said Olga Oliker, an international-policy analyst at Rand Corp. who was a special advisor on security to the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority this year. "And they will need to figure out how to hold elections in what will continue to be an insecure environment, because if they don't, it will look like they are trying to hang on to power."

In an interview with The Times last week, Allawi attributed many of Iraq's security problems to the American policies of disbanding the Iraqi army and attempting to "de-Baathify" the country.

Allawi, a former Baathist who broke with Saddam Hussein and went into exile, said U.S. policies had "contributed to the vacuum, and the vacuum created at least two very bad things: The first was the country's slip into chaos, and the second was the influx of terrorists and the rise of common criminals.

"And what goes with that is the appetite of various countries around Iraq to interfere in Iraqi affairs," he added.

Even if Allawi is able to woo back former soldiers and officers, they may not be enough to run an army, operate a police force and staff a border patrol.

"When the Iraqi forces become more capable, they will be more able to infiltrate the insurgency and stop these groups than the U.S. forces, but the Iraqi police aren't there yet," said Oliker, the Rand analyst.

For instance, when a radical cleric's militia shouldered its way into police stations in the holy city of Najaf, the local police melted away.

The insecurity leaves many Iraqis feeling ready to accept any leader who promises to bring law and order. Many Iraqis believe that Allawi's past as a Baathist is less important than whether he can fight crime and bring the insurgency under control.

"We don't care about their personalities or the names of their tribes," said Ismail Bad Teamini, a leader of a prominent tribe near the central Iraqi city of Baqubah that has both Shiite and Sunni Muslims. "What we want is the security and stability of the country."

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