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Iraq Journals

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Thursday, April 17

Questions and answers on rebuilding Iraq

By Jon Frandsen | GNS

WASHINGTON - The war in Iraq is largely won, but a military victory is only the first step of President Bush's ambitious plan to transform the country into a democracy and make it an example of political and economic freedom in a region that has known neither.

Some questions and answers about the challenges of building a postwar Iraq:

Question: Who runs Iraq right now?

Answer: The same U.S.-led military coalition that brought down the regime of Saddam Hussein. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of the war, is the ultimate authority on the ground as troops try to restore order and begin to turn over the responsibility for security to Iraqi police. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner is responsible for coordinating initial relief and reconstruction efforts. Garner's most difficult job may be establishing an Iraqi interim government that will gradually take charge of all key government functions: security, health care, housing, food networks, sanitation and infrastructure such as maintaining electric utilities, roads and government buildings.

Q: How long will U.S. troops be needed in Iraq once the war ends?

A: No one knows for sure. The Bush administration has suggested they could be withdrawn in a year, but that is widely regarded as optimistic. Most analysts say three to five years is more realistic, but warn it could be much longer. This situation is far more difficult and volatile than the peace-keeping missions in the Balkans, and U.S. troops have been in different parts of that region for more than a decade and their presence is still crucial to peace and stability.

Q: How much will it cost?

A: The Pentagon says the war has cost $20 billion so far. Congress has set aside $62 billion to pay for military and reconstruction activities through September. But the overall cost will depend upon how long U.S. forces are in the country and how quickly Iraq can become self-sufficient. 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 Council on Foreign Relations 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. With more than 22 million people in Iraq, the occupation is the largest peacekeeping and reconstruction project by the United States since rebuilding Germany and Japan after World War II.

Q: Why does there need to be such a show of force?

A: Iraq is a potential fuse that could ignite the entire region. There are multiple ethnic and political tensions within the country that are made even more explosive because of connections of those groups with Iraq's largest neighbors, Turkey and Iran. By liberating Iraq, the United States also removed a brutal but effective brake that maintained civil order. It might not take much for centuries-old disputes to erupt again and even degenerate into civil war.

Q: What are some of the ethnic and political tensions in the region?

A: Kurds are already trying to reclaim territory in the north that Saddam populated with Arab Iraqis, putting the predominantly Shiite Muslims at risk. The Turks are fearful that newly empowered Iraqi Kurds could embolden Turkish Kurds to demand greater autonomy - and perhaps even lead to creation of a Kurdish state. There are also tensions between the Shiite majority and the Sunni minority that ran the country until Saddam was toppled. Shiites live uneasily side-by-side with Sunnis in the central part of the country and control most of the south. Neighboring Iran is primarily Shiite and has provided help to Iraqi Shiites. The gravest concern is that Muslims in Iraq and the region could become inflamed by a U.S. military occupation of a Muslim country and erupt into a force that could jeopardize friendly Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, and destabilize the entire region.

Q: Now that Saddam and his henchmen are gone, why can't American and British troops simply leave?

A: That's an alternative so unthinkable, for both humanitarian and political reasons, that the Bush administration has vowed never to leave Iraq in a lurch. The chaos and looting that followed the fall of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities provided just a glimpse of what is likely to happen if there is no ruling authority in the country. A regional war would appear likely as Iran and Turkey would move to protect their own interests if they felt threatened and there was no large force to deter them. Critics of the administration, however, say not enough has been done to persuade Iraqis and others of an unshakeable U.S. commitment to stick out tough times and to sink huge resources into the reconstruction effort.

Q: How many countries will be involved in a postwar occupation?

A: That is unclear. The Bush administration is hoping the successes to date will encourage other countries to contribute money, supplies and human resources to the reconstruction effort. But the enthusiasm for that effort is likely to depend on how much authority the United States is willing to share with other countries and the United Nations. U.N. organizations will have a major role in humanitarian and relief efforts, but the United States is wary of giving it a much larger role even though many countries - including Britain, America's chief partner in the invasion of Iraq - are pushing for one. Some critics say the Bush administration may have so alienated potential allies by launching the war without U.N. backing and in the face of global opposition that few will 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 will pick Iraqi leaders in the interim government and set policy for the country?

A: The United States is overseeing the initial efforts to bring together Iraqi leaders representing different ethnic and political groups. But to attract help and ease suspicions about U.S. motives, the United States may 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: What does Congress have to do with all of this?

A: Congress gave President Bush broad authority last October to take what action he deemed necessary against Iraq, but it still has some important powers and the administration cannot ignore lawmakers. The most important of those powers is the constitutional power to control how federal money is spent. Bush wanted complete control over use of the $62 billion Congress gave him for the war, but Democrats and Republicans alike were unwilling to cede that much authority.

Q: Why did Congress oppose giving Bush control over war spending?

A: If Bush pursued a policy in Iraq that was opposed by most members of Congress, those lawmakers could shut off the money needed to implement that policy and redirect it elsewhere. It is unlikely Bush would let a dispute go so far, but that means making compromises. A growing number of House and Senate members are unhappy that the administration has not done a better job of spelling out its reconstruction plans. Hearings will be held early next month in the House to demand more thorough answers from the Pentagon and State Department.

Q: What do members of Congress think we should be doing in Iraq now?

A: That is unclear. Many Democrats and Republicans are pushing for a strong U.N. role, but there are a number of conservatives who are suspicious of the United Nations and want the United States to reserve most of the decision-making powers for itself.

Q: Who will run the oil wells?

A: U.S. and British forces have secured the major oil fields and are already beginning to make repairs to the relative few sabotaged by Saddam. Restoring oil producing and shipping capabilities is a top priority and crucial to reconstruction efforts. Proceeds probably would be held for Iraq until the government is prepared to take over operations, but U.S. officials want to use some oil profits to pay for reconstruction.