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Winning War Might Prove Easier Than Winning Hearts of Iraqis - 2003-03-26


Military and political analysts say the American-led coalition may be fully expected to win the military campaign in Iraq, but they say winning the good will of the Iraqi people will be more difficult.

In the first week of the war, thousands of Iraqi army soldiers surrendered to U.S. troops and an unknown number of others simply walked away from their units. In addition, U.S. and British coalition troops were greeted warmly by villagers in a few places in southern Iraq.

But the number of surrenders has been smaller and the reception by ordinary Iraqis less enthusiastic than many in Washington expected or hoped. And coalition forces are encountering continuing resistance.

Middle East analyst Judith Kipper says Iraqis may be worried that if they show too much excitement at being liberated, they could regret it later.

"I think that particularly in the south, the lack of enthusiasm toward the American and other coalition forces is very telling," she said. "Obviously, people have long memories. They remember very well the uprising in the Gulf War and that they were abandoned and that they have suffered ever since that time at the hands of Saddam Hussein. So, I don't see any Iraqis coming to surrender or to embrace the Americans until, first, they're absolutely sure that the regime is gone."

Ms. Kipper, director of the Middle East Forum at the Council on Foreign Relations, says Iraqis will not believe that Saddam Hussein's rule is over until he is killed or taken prisoner. She says U.S. plans for Iraq's post-war transition will be complicated if he survives as the leader of a guerrilla force.

Retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney dismisses the likelihood that Saddam will re-emerge as a guerilla leader. General McInerney says more Iraqi soldiers will surrender, and more Iraqi citizens will embrace the changes in their country, but he says that will take time.

"You've got a Ba'athist party, you've got a lot of people that are loyal to Saddam," General McInerney said. "There's no question about it. It is not perfect. There was jubilation by certain people. You've seen that on the media. It is not 100 percent. We've got to be patient."

Judith Kipper says Iraqis may be happy once they are sure Saddam Hussein is gone, but she says they are not happy to have their country occupied by foreign forces.

"Iraq, unlike East Timor and Kosovo, is a sovereign country," he emphasized. "They have had independence since 1921, and American occupation means that they are losing their sovereignty, at least temporarily. And that's not something that a very proud, fierce, nationalist people who are very, very tough are going to accept easily." Saddam Hussein this week appealed to Iraqi tribal leaders to rise up against the U.S. and British coalition troops. He said the enemy has violated not only their land but also their tribes and clans. Former U.S. acting ambassador to Iraq, Joseph Wilson, says that kind of propaganda makes the war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people difficult.

"Every day that Saddam Hussein is able to juxtapose the shock and awe bombing of Baghdad by night with a couple of Iraqi peasants shooting down an Apache helicopter is a day when he wins the propaganda battle in the Middle East," Mr. Wilson said. "And if he's going to die, the sort of death that he wants to die is one which leaves him a hero in the Arab world. And to have confronted the West, you don't need to succeed, you just need to confront. And if he's perceived as doing that and the propaganda is going to be showing that from now on, he will likely go into posterity thinking that he has won."

Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Thomas Rhame says a key factor in winning the support of the Iraqi people is the immediate delivery of food and other supplies.

"I think that the conduct of the American forces with the population and the introduction of humanitarian aid and international non-governmental organizations is key and essential to send a signal of how this thing is going to progress," he said.

The delivery of food and water to southern Iraq has begun, but U.S. and British forces are struggling to clear the way for more shipments.

In addition, Judith Kipper says the United States must repeatedly say it will stay in Iraq as short a time as possible. Another key to a smooth transition, she says, is for the United States to let Iraqis build their own form of democracy.

"Iraqis have to take charge of their own destiny. They've been running the assets, the utilities, the universities, the hospitals, their oil industry extremely well. That must continue," she said. "They themselves know who are the key people, the tribal leaders, the notables, the doctors, the lawyers who have political standing in the society. And we have to give that a chance to emerge."

Other analysts agree, saying the United States should not expect that the Iraqi that emerges after the war to necessarily be an ally of Washington or share American values.