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US Soldiers As Peacekeepers In Iraq - 2003-04-22

As the United States begins the task of rebuilding Iraq, thousands of US soldiers will be playing a peacekeeping role. However, with the recent looting in major Iraqi cities and the destruction of antiquities and relics, some say the United States was not prepared for civilian unrest.

This week, a top Republican who chairs a house subcommittee on foreign aid, Congressman Jim Kolbe, said there are not enough troops in Iraq to provide the needed security for full-scale relief efforts.

The Bush administration has called the military plan in Iraq “brilliant” and said some civil disobedience was normal after the fall of a dictator.

Former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice says US soldiers had to “make the transition from war fighters to peacekeepers in less than 24 hours.” She says, “It was no easy feat.” Dr. Rice is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. She spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about her concerns for US troops in a post-war Iraq.

Dr. Rice says, “In Iraq we were very well prepared for the war fighting mission but seemed remarkably unprepared to the obvious and predictable task of keeping law and order, policing the major cities, and in fact peacekeeping as soon as the regime fell.”

She says, “It’s somewhat shocking because one couldn’t help but anticipate the requirement for that sort of role. But we clearly haven’t provided our troops with the training and support they need to perform that job as well as they’ve performed the war fighting, for which they have been exquisitely trained and equipped.” The former assistant secretary of state says this may be because many in the leadership positions of the administration “don’t like to think of US forces as peacekeepers or nation builders. But the fact is they are.” She says this means American troops will have to “learn on the job” in Iraq.

Dr. Rice recommends that “instead of approaching all of these operations in a piecemeal and ad hoc fashion, we recognize that peacekeeping and nation building, whether we like it or not, are roles for the US military over the long term. And, therefore, let’s train our personnel and support them and equip them to do these jobs well, rather than throw them into a big open pool every time the job comes around.”