Jewish World Review Sept. 2, 2003 / 5 Elul, 5763

Jack Kelly

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Stay the course: An international gaggle of troops would not help Iraq | Karbala, a city holy to Shiite Muslims, has been a success story. The city is quiet. There is little crime. Relations between Iraqis and the Marine peacekeepers have been cordial, often warm. But now the 1,000-man Marine battalion largely responsible for the success is leaving, to be replaced by 455 Bulgarian troops.

The problem is not one of numbers or of competence. It is partly a matter of communication. Few Bulgarians speak English well, fewer still speak Arabic and precious few Iraqis speak Bulgarian.

The heart of the problem is that the Bulgarians are unwilling to assume the responsibilities for civil administration that have been performed so ably by the Marines.

"It's a huge job: The U.S. troops were involved in everything from painting schools to training a new local police force," wrote the Journal's Michael Phillips.

Shiia Muslims in Iraq (most of them) have been moving willingly, often eagerly, toward democracy and self reliance. But democracy in Iraq is in its infancy. It's been less than four months since major combat operations ended. Saddam Hussein's Baath party ruled for more than 30 years. And -- except for Lebanon a few decades ago -- there's never been a democracy in the Arab world.

The importance of friendly guidance was illustrated by a dispatch that Dexter Filkins of The New York Times filed from Diwaniya, another city in the Marine-controlled south-central Iraq, on Aug. 19. Filkins described how after graduation ceremonies at the Diwaniya University Medical School, the students walked up to the Marines who had attended the ceremony to thank them, and to pose with them for pictures.

"We like the Americans very much here," Zainab Khaledy, 22, told Filkins. "We feel better than under the old regime. We have problems, like security, but everything is getting much better."

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Marine civil affairs personnel in Karbala were supposed to be replaced by an international team of civilian administrators, but they have yet to arrive.

"Religious, tribal and political fissures could widen unless there's a strong coalition presence in local affairs for months to come, [Marine] officers say, and public corruption, barely contained by U.S. oversight, could well blister to the surface," Phillips wrote.

The problems in Iraq will be solved less by larger numbers of troops than by having the right kinds of troops, and a continuity of presence that builds on local ties established and local lessons learned. These problems are worsened when those who have been doing the job well are replaced by an international gaggle.

Even if numbers were the answer, there is little likelihood the international community could provide them. Aside from Britain and Poland -- already heavily committed in Iraq -- the nations of Europe have few competent soldiers to send, even if they were willing to send them, which most are not.

As a practical matter, only Turkey, India, Pakistan and Russia have significant numbers of troops to send, and to bring Turkish or Pakistani troops to Iraq would cause more problems than it would solve.

Since the United Nations' record of peacekeeping in Rwanda, Bosnia, the Congo and elsewhere does not inspire confidence, putting the United Nations in overall charge is more likely to undo the good work we have done than to lead Iraq to a peaceful, democratic future.

The best use for international troops would be to guard the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations providing humanitarian aid. Where international troops have broader responsibilities, they should be firmly under American supervision. The situation in Karbala could be happily resolved if a Marine company were left behind to work with the Bulgarians, and to do what the Bulgarians are unwilling to do.

"Victory in Iraq requires unity of command, determination and guts," said Ralph Peters, the prominent military affairs writer and former Army officer, "not leadership by an international committee."

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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