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Iraq: from chaos to post-war order

As Kurds in Iraq celebrate the fall of Saddam, moves are underway to restore order

(Keystone)

The power vacuum left by the fall of Saddam Hussein is forcing the United States to shift its focus from the war to the question of restoring law and order.

However several Swiss experts have questioned whether the US-led forces are equipped for the job, given that the armed conflict has not ended.

Military operations continue to unfold north of Baghdad and in the country's south, where pockets of resistance remain.

"The war has been won, but the war is not yet over," Victor Mauer, a security expert at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, told swissinfo.

The US-led force is increasingly faced with the challenge of operating in a country that is without leadership, government structure or authority.

Mauer said the US was likely to declare a ceasefire as soon as resistance dries up. "They will [then] have to very quickly transform themselves into a police force to stop the looting, chaos, revenge killing and political intrigue."

Restoring order

Arnold Hottinger, a prominent Swiss Middle East expert, questioned whether the US was willing or capable of undertaking such a role.

"They are not equipped to do it," Hottinger told swissinfo. "They now have two tasks: to fight and to look after the civil situation...[and] this is difficult [because] they are still extending their power."

A key question centres on the need for a standing force of at least 100,000 troops to maintain order.

"Armed forces have learnt a lot over the past decade...where armies have increasingly taken over policing tasks," Mauer said.

"[But] I think 100,000 troops, to be honest, will not be sufficient and this is why the Americans are increasing the number of troops on the ground."

"Occupation" or "Liberation"

Internationally, the military success of the US-led campaign is rapidly becoming overshadowed by a debate over what to do next.

As with the war in Afghanistan, questions are being asked about whether the UN, or the US, should play the dominant role.

The Swiss foreign ministry on Thursday praised the coalition forces for accepting their responsibility to restore order in Iraq - but pointedly described them as "occupiers", rather than Washington's preferred "liberators".

The statement said Switzerland supported the Iraqi people's "inalienable right to self-rule and control of their country's resources".

Pascal de Crousaz, a Geneva-based political historian, described the Swiss position as "courageous".

"The term 'occupying power' is not necessarily pejorative - it is merely a statement of fact," de Crousaz told swissinfo.

"There is a danger that the Americans will come under pressure to hand out contracts to US companies, which will contravene the right of Iraqis to dispose of their own resources," he added.

What about the UN?

The comments came as France, Germany and Russia increased their diplomatic efforts to ensure a stronger role for the UN.

President Bush said recently that the UN would play a "vital role" in Iraq, although some critics predicted the world body's participation would be secondary, at best.

"The [US wants] to be helped by the UN, [and] they want their prestige shown off by the UN - but they are not willing to give them responsibility," Hottinger said.

"They say 'we have done the military job - now we want the political and economic profits'," he added.

Mauer said the US believes it can manage the post-war situation better than the UN.

"The US simply believes they can run this more efficiently, with cleaner lines of authority and responsibility, without the UN," he said.

However, he added that Washington was aware of the need for international cooperation. "They will need help... and it would be good for the Iraqis. [UN involvement] would mitigate fears that this is a colonial land-grab."

Washington's plan

Regardless of the UN's potential role, Paul Wolfowitz, the US deputy secretary of defence, on Thursday outlined a three-stage plan for Iraq.

The first stage, conducted at the same time as ongoing military operations, is for Iraq to be run by the newly formed Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), headed by retired US general Jay Garner.

The second stage would involve a series of regional gatherings, potentially culminating in a Baghdad conference to form what Wolfowitz called an "Iraqi Interim Authority".

The final stage would see the formation of an elected Iraqi government.

Hottinger described the Wolfowitz approach as a recipe for trouble.

"The Americans ought to see that if they want to dominate, they will cut [off] their own noses. They will get into chaos for the next 20 years - a new Vietnam," he said.

"The Iraqi population... does not want to be ruled by a foreign country, and not by a stooge of a foreign country."

The next dictator

Hottinger also questioned the "illusion" that Iraq would become democratic within a few years.

"Iraq has never been ruled, except by a strongman. There is no democracy without democrats, and there are no democrats in Iraq. You have to create them and that takes a generation.

"The Americans should realise that. This is not Germany [after the Second World War].

"In two years they will have to decide whether to stay on, and continue to provoke the Iraqis, or to hand over to another dictator."

Hottinger also warned that doubts about the fate Saddam Hussein - particularly if he disappears without trace - might begin to haunt Washington.

"The danger is then that they would start another damn war," Hottinger said.

swissinfo, Jacob Greber

In brief

Saddam Hussein's fall has created a political vacuum in Iraq.

The US-led forces are beginning to shift their focus from war to the question of restoring law and order.

However several Swiss experts have questioned whether coalition forces are equipped for the job, given that the armed conflict has not ended.

Military operations continue to unfold north of Baghdad and in the country's south, where pockets of resistance remain.

"The war has been won, but the war is not yet over," Victor Mauer, a security expert at the Zurich Institute of Technology told swissinfo.

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