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Iraq Journals

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Monday, June 28

Violence to test bond between U.S. and newly sovereign Iraq

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - Sovereignty transfer down; security and elections to go.

With the power handoff in Iraq done two days ahead of the scheduled June 30 date, Iraqi leaders and U.S. support troops face the daunting task of preparing for elections amid crippling chaos and untested guidelines in their new relationship.

Without security, the elections scheduled for January will be almost impossible to hold as Iraqis will fear being killed at the polls.

''The Iraqi people need to hear, loud and clear, they'll have our friendship and our support, no matter how tough it gets,'' President Bush said at a NATO summit in Turkey on Monday.

And it's likely to get tougher.

American ground commanders have been warning for weeks that the sovereignty transfer will not discourage insurgents. The difference as of Monday is that Iraqis now must try to take the lead in repelling them.

Paul Bremer, the former U.S. governor in Iraq, sought to re-enforce the notion of Iraqis securing their country by describing insurgents as ``the enemies of Iraq, not enemies of the occupation.''

The ``enemies of Iraq,'' however, are threatening to decapitate a U.S. Marine hostage. That could dramatically change the complexion of the new Iraqi-U.S. security relationship if Bush feels compelled to strike back with more force than Iraq's new leaders deem warranted.

Indeed, the abduction appears aimed at fracturing the new U.S.-Iraqi relationship by playing on the changing role of U.S. forces.

Status of forces

The Pentagon plans to keep 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely, 25,000 more than it was anticipating it would need before the insurgency swelled in April, killing 137 troops.

How long U.S troops remain in newly sovereign Iraq is an open question.

Iraq's elected leadership may demand they leave in 2006 when their security mandate expires.

Or the troops could stay on for years.

American and coalition forces will be able to take ``all necessary measures'' to ensure their own security if threatened. But under the sovereignty agreement, Iraqi leaders will be largely in charge of major security decisions and operations. That means they will have the power to veto large-scale offensive missions.

The coming weeks and months will test the boundaries of the new U.S.-Iraq relationship.

If Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi imposes martial law, or some softened version, as he has threatened to do, who will enforce it?

An U.S.-led clampdown inevitably would damage the new government's credibility and shake the faith that Iraqi forces can ever secure their own country.

That said, there remain grave concerns about Iraqi forces.

Iraq's poorly trained troops have often collapsed in the face of the insurgency, or joined it.

The Fallujah problem

Perhaps nowhere is the security challenge to the newly sovereign Iraq and its American ally more evident than in Fallujah.

In April, U.S. Marines fought pitched battles against insurgents in the city west of Baghdad but then pulled out after U.S. military commanders agreed to withdraw and let Iraqi forces secure the city.

Since then, Fallujah has become something of an independent terrorist city-state.

Most intelligence indicates it's the source of many of the bombs being used daily against U.S. troops.

It's also suspected of being the haven for Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, believed to be behind the recent beheadings in Iraq and some of the most tenacious insurgent fighting.

``Us leaving Fallujah sent the message to the Iraqis that you can fight America to a standstill,'' said retired Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, author of ``Beyond Baghdad'' and ``Beyond Terror.''

"It told them that America can win wars, but they have no staying power. That's going to make securing that area all the more difficult down the road," Peters said.

U.S. forces recently have hit Fallujah with precision air strikes in an attempt to get al-Zarqawi and other insurgent leaders.

If those fail, Iraqi troops may have to do the job, or at least try before Americans go in.

It remains to be seen whether Iraqi troops under Iraqi command will kill large numbers of their own countrymen.