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VOA-TV Interview with Robert Perito

VOA-TV’s David Borgida talks with Robert Perito, of the U.S. Institute of Peace, about maintaining law and order in Iraq.

Joining us now, Robert Perito of the United States Institute of Peace. He is an expert in peacekeeping operations. A real challenging time inside Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, Mr. Perito.

Tell us a little bit, if you might, you've had some experience examining the situation in Bosnia and Panama, similar moments in time, why is this so difficult for troops as they are coming into a city like this? And is this kind of a reaction, in terms of looting, to be expected?

We've seen this in other operations before, first, in Panama, at the end of Operation Just Cause, then in Haiti, then in Bosnia, and in Kosovo.

It's very difficult, as your previous guest said, to switch from warfighting to peacekeeping.

But it's even more difficult for troops, because they're not trained to deal with civilians and they're not trained to deal with crowds, as police are trained to deal with crowds.

Now, the humanitarian relief groups, many of them have had this kind of experience before, the International Red Cross and so on.

How can they make their way through to provide that much needed aid, water and food and medical supplies, in this kind of an environment?

Well, that's the problem. In a situation like this, the first priority is to establish public order and security.

What we've seen in Afghanistan is a situation where that hasn't happened, and then the other parts of the reconstruction process, humanitarian assistance, refugee return, hasn't happened.

So, it's really critical in this environment for public order and security to be restored quickly.

How do you that? We've got combat troops on the ground there.

The Bush administration is apparently making some effort to get help from other nations in the way of peacekeeping forces and so on.

But this could well be days away. What do you think we're going to see, based on your studying of precedents?

This is going to fall initially on the troops. This is rather unfortunate, since they're not really trained to do this work.

But as quickly as possible, we need to bring in civilian police that are trained to do crowd control, that are equipped with shields and batons and helmets and non-lethal weapons, and are trained to deal with rioting and looting and lawlessness.

And this is something we have to get to very quickly.

But must that kind of force include Iraqis? And can the Iraqis themselves bring to this situation some of their own people to help out?

Well, certainly Iraq has police and it has security forces that can do this work. But these forces have gone to ground.

And it's going to take time for these forces to be reconstituted, provided with adequate leadership, brought on line, and then deployed.

So, there is going to be a period here where the responsibility is going to fall on coalition forces, unfortunately.


It's a tough responsibility at the moment for the coalition forces. Hopefully, they will be able to deal with that.

I want to ask you one more quick question. Do you see the worst situation at the moment in Baghdad, throughout the country, in other cities?

It's spreading. And as cities are liberated, you know, we saw this phenomenon first in the south, then we've seen it in Baghdad, and today we saw it in the north.

So, it seems to be following the liberation process. And I think that's pretty much what we should have anticipated, given the circumstances.

A tough situation. Robert Perito of the United States Institute of Peace here in Washington, an expert on peacekeeping, thanks so much, Mr. Perito, for joining us.

Thank you.