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Analysts: Establishing Law and Order in Iraq A Delicate Task for Coalition - 2003-04-10

In Baghdad, celebration at the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime was tinged with lawlessness, as many Iraqis took the opportunity to grab whatever they could. Coalition troops now face the daunting task of restoring law and order.

The fall of the Iraqi government marked not only the end of a regime, but the beginning of anarchy. Looting began almost immediately. On Thursday, residents stormed through Baghdad's streets, looting and burning several government buildings. Mobs also cleaned out the German Embassy and the French Cultural Center.

Rachel Bronson, director of Middle East Studies at the non-governmental Council on Foreign Relations, says such spasms of lawlessness are to be expected when a government is deposed.

"This really was expected. This happens time and time again when there's outside intervention, that a power vacuum immediately emerges when a government falls, and people are thrilled to have the leadership gone," he said. The challenge for the outside force is really how to establish law and order."

But how and when to do so, say analysts, is a delicate question. Come down too hard, too fast, they say, and the liberators look like a heavy-handed occupation force.

Robert Coon, a retired U.S. Army colonel now teaching at the Army War College, says that a certain amount of venting by the populace is, after years of repression, even therapeutic.

"If we tried to do that too soon, we could find ourselves, I think, in a precarious situation, because we almost have to let them vent a little," he said. "It's good for them, and it's good for us, and it's good for the rest of the region over there to see this bubbling of the local people that's going on at the present time in defiance of the regime. That's good. Again, we have to stop it short of anarchy."

Colonel Coon says the work of the coalition forces is now greatly complicated by the number of tasks demanded of them. He points out that troops will be continuing to fight conventional forces around Baghdad, and in the north, battling unconventional or irregular forces, doing peacekeeping in the streets, and rendering humanitarian assistance.

"Now, that's hard. It's hard to orchestrate one and do it perfectly," he said. "But when you try to intertwine all four, and keep the rules straight, it gets very, very, difficult."

Former British intelligence officer Ellie Goldsworthy, now head of U.K. Armed Forces Program at the Royal United Services Institute in London, says establishing long-term security will necessitate using members of the ousted regime.

"Well, the first priority has got to be identifying people in the Iraqi, I was about to say regime there, within Iraq who are able to help with this. And I think that will be a mixture of - I know this is contentious - but Iraqi police, Iraqi tribal leaders, and even Iraqi Baath Party, who were in a position of administration before," he said.

The United States is planning to establish an interim authority to take power in Iraq until power can be turned over to an Iraqi administration. Estimates from various U-S defense officials are that anywhere from 100-thousand to several hundred-thousand troops will be needed to remain in Iraq for several years to stabilize the country.