War and Peace: Anarchy in the Streets
Saturday 12 April 2003
The images of smiling children and cheering crowds in Iraq have been overtaken by a new, much more disturbing portrait of anarchy and fear. Looters, who began by going after the offices and homes of Saddam Hussein's henchmen, have moved on
to stores, warehouses and even hospitals. At one site, thugs dragged away heart monitors and baby incubators. A prominent cleric returned from exile only to be murdered in one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines. Frightened citizens have barricaded themselves in their homes in some places, or have begun shooting suspected robbers.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was understandably defensive but stunningly off message yesterday when he claimed: "Freedom's untidy. And free people are free to commit mistakes, and to commit crimes." That was not the vision of freedom the Bush administration was selling when it began this enterprise, and it is not necessarily one the Iraqi people would welcome.
Military officials have reason to be reluctant about performing police duties. Their troops are trained to fight a war, not to arrest bank robbers or stop muggings. They are unfamiliar with Iraqi culture and do not speak Arabic. There are bound to be threatening and unpleasant incidents, and the Arab world is likely to see American street patrols as the first step in a new American dictatorship.
But there is no alternative for the American military other than to restore order. It must police the streets, and above all make Iraq safe enough for humanitarian aid workers to bring in food, water and medical supplies, and it must work to restore electrical and water utilities. The military, which has performed so brilliantly during the war, is going to have to take up this
second, and perhaps harder, challenge. This is not only its obligation under international conventions, but also a necessary step in the dismantling of Mr. Hussein's reign of terror.
The most worrisome part of the current crisis is that it seemed to take the American troops somewhat by surprise. Washington apparently presumed that it would be possible to remove Mr. Hussein and his associates while leaving civic structures intact. So far, that has not happened, and the bureaucratic and law enforcement services in Iraqi cities have melted away. From the beginning, the chief concern about the Iraqi invasion has not been the Pentagon's ability to prevail on the battlefield, but the Bush administration's ability to plan for the day after victory. So far, nothing has happened to alleviate that concern.
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