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Sunday, March 16

What happens after war with Iraq - some questions and answers

By Jon Frandsen

WASHINGTON - One of the most complex and daunting challenges the Bush administration faces in its Iraq policy is how to rebuild the country after Saddam Hussein has been dethroned and his weapons of mass destruction have been secured. While diplomats debate in the United Nations whether to sanction a war against Iraq, officials in Washington are struggling with plans for stabilizing and rebuilding the country once the fighting stops. Some questions and answers about what a postwar Iraq would look like: Question: How long will U.S. troops be needed in Iraq once the war ends? Answer: No one knows for sure. The Bush administration has suggested they could be withdrawn in a year, but most analysts find that optimistic. Most say three to five years is realistic and warn that it could be much longer. For example, U.S. troops have been in different parts of the Balkans for nearly a decade and are crucial to keeping the area stable. Q: How much will it cost? A: No one knows, and the administration has avoided making estimates. A Council on Foreign Relations task force conservatively estimates reconstruction alone will cost $20 billion a year. Q: How many troops will be needed once the fighting stops? And why? A: The same task force based its cost estimate on having a long-term, U.S. contingent of 75,000 troops. It warned the number of troops and the cost could end up being much higher. Some in the military have said it could take more than 200,000 - an assertion sharply disputed by the administration. With more than 22 million people in Iraq, a U.S. occupation would be the largest peacekeeping and reconstruction project by the United States since rebuilding Germany and Japan after World War II. Q: Why would a postwar occupation take so long and involve so many U.S. troops? A: This occupation could be far riskier than any peacekeeping operation the United States has undertaken in the post-Cold War era. It is not clear what kind of reception the United States will get from Iraqis, although the administration is predicting they will be seen as liberators, much as they were in Afghanistan last year. Ethnic tensions between Kurds in the north, Shiites in the south and the mix of Sunnis and Shiites in the central part of the country could flare up and even turn into a civil war. Problems could erupt on Iraq> '> s borders with Turkey and Iran. And the nightmare scenario is an explosion of anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim world that could jeopardize friendly Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Q: If postwar occupation is so dangerous, why not just topple Saddam Hussein, make sure all weapons of mass destruction are destroyed and leave? A: Leaving such a vacuum is virtually unthinkable and would almost certainly pose more of a risk to the United States in the long term than staying. A huge, humanitarian disaster would be a near certainty and the United States would be blamed. Ethnic and regional tensions would be far more likely to erupt and could engulf the entire region. Q : Could the United States be forced to leave postwar Iraq, like we were in Vietnam? A: That is possible. And the prospects for such a failure is why so much thought is being given to how to carry out the reconstruction and to make the postwar presence as international as possible. Q: How many countries will be involved in a postwar occupation? A: That is not clear yet. It could depend to a large extent on whether the United States acts with or without U.N. support. Many countries are likely to help in relief efforts. And the administration said it expects many countries would help in the actual postwar administration and rebuilding of Iraq, regardless of whether they supported an invasion because stability in the region is so important to most of the international community. Some critics say the Bush administration may have so alienated potential allies that few would be willing to take part. Others say such rifts have been overcome in the past, and point out how Russia fiercely opposed the military campaign against Serbia in Kosovo and blocked U.N. support but then joined the peacekeeping effort afterward. Q: Who would be in charge? A: The U.S. military in the beginning. The goal would be to pass power as quickly as possible to some handpicked Iraqi leaders who might have some popular support. Assuming things go well, the military would slowly allow Iraqi soldiers and police to assume greater and greater security roles. The Pentagon also hopes to use Iraqi soldiers not accused of war crimes or crimes against Iraqi citizens in the early days to ensure basic needs and services are maintained: feeding networks, utilities, hospitals and sanitation. Q : Who would decide how Iraq should be rebuilt after war? A: The Bush administration is likely to insist on overall authority, but it will have to share power with other nations if it wants help with the costs and military help on the ground. To attract help and ease suspicions about U.S. motives, one idea being floated is to seek a U.N. resolution that supports U.S. control but also delegates a great deal of authority to other countries. The administration is divided on that approach and there is disagreement over how much power it should share. Q: Are we ready to handle the inevitable humanitarian problems? A: That's unclear. The administration says it expects the food-for-oil network that 16 million Iraqis rely upon daily will be kept intact and that emergency supplies are being positioned around the gulf. There are fears that a full-scale disaster could erupt if that program is disrupted. The United Nations is setting up an emergency supply but says that effort is underfunded by 60 percent to 70 percent. If the war is especially brutal, it also could lead to a refugee crisis with Kurds headed largely to Turkey and Shiites headed for Iran. Q: Who will run the oil wells? A: The United States will make securing them - and repairing them if Saddam sabotages them - a top priority. That is to ensure the flow of oil is not interrupted and to make sure no other group or country tries to seize them. Proceeds probably would be held for Iraq until the government is prepared to take over operations and distribution, but some of the money could be used for reconstruction costs. Q : What has to happen for us to leave? A: There are two possibilities. If the United States and its allies are seen as a hostile occupying force, Iraqis and their neighbors could eventually force troops out. If Iraq and the region generally accepts the Western presence, most troops would leave when the country appeared stable militarily, politically and economically. That would mean having at least a provisional government in place with plans for moving to a more democratic system over time. Democracy is unknown in that part of the world and the transition is likely to be a very long process that requires establishing government at the local and federal level.