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Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.


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Friday, March 12

Security, self-rule will dominate year 2 for U.S. in Iraq

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON — The U.S. campaign in Iraq is moving forward, but toward what?

Iraqis are making progress establishing democratic self-rule, but problems abound.

They continue to resent Americans for failing to secure their streets and mosques.

Perhaps most worrisome are fears of a possible civil war in Iraq between its majority Shiite Muslims and the Sunni Arab minority that made up much of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein‘s Baathist regime.

Here are some questions and answers surrounding the future of Iraq and the American presence there.

Question: What‘s the most important next step in Iraq?

Answer: The transfer of sovereignty back to Iraqis. That‘s scheduled to happen on June 30, when the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, now running Iraq, hands over sovereignty in Baghdad to some form of Iraqi leadership.

In order to do that, the U.S.-led coalition troops in Iraq and the newly trained Iraqi police force will have to improve security.

If they can‘t, the events that surround the transfer of authority are sure to attract additional rounds of violence and even more resentment against U.S. forces, civil authorities and contractors in Iraq.

That would further destabilize a country already teetering on chaos.

Q: Where is Saddam and what will happen to him?

A: He is in U.S. custody in a secret location, presumably somewhere in Iraq. The Red Cross has examined him and confirmed that he is in good condition. Eventually, he will be tried by the Iraqis for his crimes against humanity and his war crimes. The Iraqis will get help organizing the case from a U.S. legal team. The trial could begin as early as the end of the year.

Q: Have Americans given up on looking for weapons of mass destruction?

A: No. The 1,000-member Iraqi Survey Group is still looking for them. President Bush has admitted that the intelligence he said virtually proved Saddam had WMD now appears to have been wrong. Vice President Dick Cheney has said he still believes they could turn up. Regardless, the Bush administration argues that Saddam had the facilities to make chemical and biological weapons, and would have started production as soon he got the opportunity.

Q: To what sort of an Iraqi government will the coalition authorities give sovereignty?

A: It will be a temporary government, likely to be determined in the coming weeks during talks between U.S. authorities, Iraqis and possibly United Nations officials.

The Iraqi leadership is now headed by the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council, which was appointed by the coalition after the fall of Saddam‘s regime.

One of the leading possibilities is to expand the governing council, but limit its authority so it wouldn‘t impinge too heavily on Iraq‘s top religious leaders.

One of the options for expanding the council is to let a large group of between 50 and 300 diverse and influential Iraqis select the new members.

U.S. and Iraqi officials want to hold direct, one-person-one-vote elections by the end of the year or in early 2005.

Q: What kind of a government do the Iraqis eventually want to create?

A: That‘s still up for debate, but some early signs are encouraging. Iraqis recently approved an interim constitution that includes freedom of expression, assembly, demonstration, privacy and religion.

That said, Iraq‘s religious and ethnic factions have different ideas about how the country should be run.

Iraq‘s majority Shiites are varied in their approach: Some want a theocratic Muslim state while others want a significant separation of mosque and state. The Bush administration strongly opposes a theocracy, where a religious authority is in charge.

The Sunni Arabs want to make sure their minority rights are enshrined in the new government.

Iraq‘s Kurds, who inhabit the oil-rich lands north of Baghdad, want a semi-autonomous state.

This will all have to be worked out.

Q: What‘s the best-case scenario in Iraq for the coming year?

A: For U.S. forces and Iraqi police to significantly improve security so Iraqis can start living normal lives and repair their economy. The political process must move forward — on schedule — as well, so Iraqis can take charge of their own destiny.

This would allow U.S. forces to pare down their numbers, reduce their friction with Iraqis and dramatically cut casualties.

Q: What‘s the worst-case scenario?

A: Civil war, which remains a real possibility, especially between the Shiites and Sunnis.

American authorities in Iraq suspect that the recent bombings of Shiite mosques in Baghdad and the holy city of Karbala were an attempt by radical Islamists to foment a sectarian war between the Shiites and Sunnis in hopes of destabilizing the country.

If that were to succeed, it could draw in forces from surrounding countries eager to protect their interests in Iraq and ignite a wider Arab conflict.

That would be an unmitigated disaster for U.S. policy and strategy in the Middle East.