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Monday, February 9

Bremer expects violence to persist

By James Carroll | (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal

BAGHDAD, Iraq - As the coalition-run authority inches closer to handing over sovereignty to the Iraqi people in June, serious questions are being raised about the ability of a democracy to survive in the country's current violent climate.

Paul Bremer, the top American official directing the reconstruction and political transition in Iraq, said that although coalition forces have seized about 650,000 tons of weapons in Iraq, more than 1 million tons remain unaccounted for.

"This is going to be a violent country for a long time," he told a group of reporters recently in his Baghdad office.

But Bremer said the Iraqis want democracy and "want sovereignty.''

Violence is "one of the biggest obstacles" to setting up a viable Iraqi government, said James Phillips, a Middle East analyst with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think tank.

"The U.S. has to try to get the security situation under control before it leaves," he said, adding that it would take time.

Paul Rees, managing director of Centurion Risk Assessment Services Ltd. of Andover, England, a firm that specializes in training private contractors and the media for living in hostile places, said he believes that it will take more than a year.

Bombings, crime underscore instability

The Feb. 1 suicide bombings of two Kurdish political offices in Irbil in northern Iraq underscored the difficulty coalition troops and newly trained Iraqi security forces are having in containing attacks in a nation of 25 million people with an area almost as large as California. More than 100 people were killed in those bombings.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan agreed to send a team to Iraq to assess the possibility of changing the way the June transition of the government is to be conducted.

The United Nations has refused to re-establish a significant presence in the country since a truck bomb in August killed 23 people at U.N. offices in Baghdad. U.N. special envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello was among the victims. The security conditions in Iraq, including the danger of new attacks on U.N. representatives, will be part of the international team's assessment.

Bremer said he believes that sovereignty itself might quell the violence somewhat.

"It won't solve the security problems overnight, but it will help," he said.

Iraq shows a mixed picture of its readiness to embrace a more peaceful and open civil and political order after decades of Saddam Hussein's brutality against his own people and three devastating wars.

Other than an occasional charter flight by Royal Jordanian Airlines, Iraq has no commercial air passenger service, as aircraft remain a prime target of insurgents and terrorists. Iraq's own national airline is idle, and its jets gather dust at Baghdad International Airport's modern passenger terminal.

On the ground, the ribbon of highway between the Jordanian border and Baghdad is being used, but drivers - even those in convoys - are subject to attacks and hold-ups. Trains also have been burned, looted and derailed. There have been hundreds of murders a month in Iraq, and between 200 and 300 kidnappings since May, according to Chief Inspector Melvin Goudie, head of police training for the British Defense Ministry and now director of the Baghdad Police Academy.

Most of the kidnappings, he said, "come out OK." Victims usually are targeted because they are known to have money, and people pay up to $30,000 in ransom, Goudie said.

When people don't pay, "we find a body two or three days later," he said.

Challenges and progress

One of the chief challenges to the new Iraqi police force is "the stealings," said Capt. Fateh Sadiq, 33, of Baghdad, who is responsible for the administration of the police academy.

When the coalition forces first came into Iraq, they didn't do anything about looters, Sadiq said. "So now, people think ... " - he stopped and gestured in a way that meant "anything goes."

Even traffic signals are part of the disorder. Most in Baghdad don't work or have been turned off.

U.S. military and civilian officials said Iraqis decided after Saddam's departure that they didn't want to obey the traffic lights. As a result, the increasingly crowded streets of the Iraqi capital are a circus of speeding and honking cars, trucks, buses and scooters, mixed with military vehicles, pedestrians and donkey carts.

By some estimates, the number of cars in the country has tripled since the end of the old regime. Pedestrians crowd the sidewalks in central Baghdad. People sit in cafes drinking sweet tea or eating beef and lamb kabobs cooked over sidewalk stoves. They look over merchandise that appears plentiful: shoes, clothing, luggage, toy trucks, televisions, sofas, safes, office furniture and cigarettes.

Neighborhood groceries are stocked with everything from bananas to orange soda. Everyone wants satellite dishes, and those who get them like to paint them different colors as outdoor ornaments, a testament to plugging in to the world that a few months ago was closed to them.

On one Baghdad street, there is a Mercedes dealer. On many other main streets, there are impromptu auto-repair shops.

Waiting in line for gasoline in this oil-producing country is a necessity, but the wait is getting shorter. People used to wait overnight, but in recent days the lines at most stations have been no longer than 10 to 15 cars.

The universities are also open.

Large industries, including oil production, are running. One refinery, on the edge of central Baghdad, belches smoke all day.

And with Coalition Provisional Authority advisers, Iraq is rebuilding its ministries.

U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao made a two-day visit to Iraq late last month to highlight her agency's efforts to aid the Iraqi Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, which is trying to match the vast numbers of unemployed - estimates are as high as 70 percent - with thousands of new jobs.

Among those she met was Tom Foley, who as part of Bremer's team is in charge of developing Iraq's private sector and is working with Iraqi businesses to show them how to compete for U.S. and international funds. He also is moving to help privatize Iraq's 192 state-owned enterprises.

The attraction of Iraq is "economic opportunity," Foley said.

"If Iraq can establish a stable government and modern economic institutions, most businessmen would want to be here and reach out to the rest of the region," he said.

`It takes time'

But everything boils down to making Iraq secure enough for a new government to take root, analysts said.

"Optimally, in order to succeed in laying the basis for a viable, coherent, decent government in Iraq, which has never had such a thing, what you need is time - the more time the better," said Michael Mandelbaum, author of "The Ideas That Conquered the World" and head of the American foreign policy program at The Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

"It takes time for institutions to take root; it takes time for habits to form; it takes time for confidence to grow; it takes time for people to master the skills that are needed, which in the case of democracy involves compromises.''

Officials are rushing the transition by setting a goal of late June, Mandelbaum and others said.

"I think ultimately ... Iraq can be self-governing and with some form of indigenous democracy," said Antonia Chayes, visiting professor of international politics and law at Tufts University's Fletcher School in Medford, Mass.

"It is going to be very difficult and I think it's been inadequately planned for. ... It's going to look different from the American ideal, and it cannot be imposed totally and we can't get out of there quickly."