Last week’s horrific bombing of the U.N. compound in Baghdad by Saddam Hussein’s loyalists spotlighted a treacherous new front in America’s occupation of Iraq.
The bloody attack was, to date, the single most damaging postwar assault on the U.S.-led efforts to help rebuild Iraq into a democratic, pro-Western nation.
It is also the most recent sign that, for all practical purposes, war with Saddam has begun again. The remnants of his military forces have apparently regrouped and are much better armed than initially believed (with weapons reportedly seized from Saddam’s hidden munitions sites).
The flatbed truck that drove — unimpeded by U.S. forces — down an unguarded side street next to the Canal Hotel, where U.N. officials worked carried more than 1,000 pounds of large, Soviet-made bombs. The force of the blast shattered windows two miles away.
U.S. intelligence agencies say the attack was one of a number of signs (since the car bombing outside the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad) that Hussein’s loyalists are raising the stakes in Iraq.
Indeed, U.S. military officials now say, for the first time, that coalition forces are fighting a two-front war in Iraq. Up until recently, we have been fighting scattered, isolated sniper attacks by small cadres of terrorists that reportedly included Iraqis and extremist forces from Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Syria. They are killing American soldiers and Iraqi civilians, and blowing up water and oil pipelines to disrupt Iraq’s infrastructure.
Now we are also facing a better-armed, better-trained foe in Hussein’s partially resurrected forces who blended into the civilian population at the war’s end. They bided their time, waiting for their chance to begin a longer-term guerrilla war of attrition and terror on occupation forces and on their own people.
Guerrilla warfare does not favor occupying forces. They are elusive, hiding in their communities or in remote geographic regions, carefully choosing when to attack. They are apparently content to kill just one or two soldiers at a time, but on a relentless, almost daily basis. They have no time frame in their war. While U.S. military officials and national security advisers talk in terms of a years, guerrillas think in terms of generations seeking revenge.
This bleak new reality in Iraq has sent President Bush’s national security officials back to the drawing board to rethink U.S. strategy there.
Secretary of State Colin Powell is seeking a broader international role for the United Nations, but on terms agreeable to the United States. U.N. Security Council members, however, want more authority in Iraq and some agreement on getting a large share of its business contracts.
The most immediate question that needs to be answered is, how can limited U.S. forces subdue and defeat the terrorists’ objectives? Here are a few ideas worth considering.
- Establishing bombproof perimeters around all major buildings and utility structures is job No. 1. No vehicle should have been allowed near the U.N. compound until it was thoroughly searched and cleared.
- Armed Iraqi guards need to be posted along the oil pipeline route and in key water and power installations, with oil revenues used to train and pay them, and with built-in financial incentives to sign up.
- There must be a stepped-up, better-financed mission to develop a large, well-armed Iraqi military. We’re not doing this fast enough. President Bush needs to put some high-level official in charge of seeking foreign financial help and training assistance from friendly countries to help Iraqis defend their country from the enemies within.
- We have to put an Iraqi face on the forces fighting Hussein’s loyalists and begin a heavily promoted public campaign for paid local militias to seek out loyalist forces and kill or arrest them.
- U.S. intelligence in Iraq is still very weak. We need to establish special intelligence networks in heavily populated areas of paid informants who can help Iraqi military teams locate and destroy weapons caches.
- A stronger push is needed in the process of creating Iraq’s new government. Governing councils have been formed, and soon work will begin on a new Constitution and, eventually, elections. But Iraqis need to be more fully engaged in this. A series of town hall meetings, where citizens can voice what kind of government they want, would help to keep the focus on what the Iraqis are fighting for.
No matter how much military and economic assistance we may provide, the battle for Iraq’s freedom and security will ultimately depend on the Iraqi people. In the end, this is a war that they must win for themselves.