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Building the New Iraq: The Role of Intervening Forces

Daniel L. Byman

British and American military forces will find occupying Iraq more difficult than conquering it. Now that Saddam is gone, soldiers must help refugees and the displaced, restore Iraq?s battered infrastructure and otherwise heal the ravages of war. But intervening soldiers will have to be more than well-armed aid workers. They will also need to help the new Iraq become democratic and transform its military forces. In addition, Iraq?s new leaders (whoever they turn out to be) must be convinced not to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and to seek peace with the country?s neighbours.

This agenda is ambitious and is likely to encounter numerous obstacles. Coalition forces must reform Iraq?s military from top to bottom, in the interim, secure Iraq from domestic strife. Convincing future leaders to disarm will not be simple either. Iraq?s WMD programmes are not solely creatures of Saddam: they also stem from Iraq?s strategic weakness and the weapons? popularity in military circles. Democracy will prove hard to build in Iraq, which has little tradition of power-sharing and has a fragmented opposition. Iraq also must survive in a rough neighbourhood. Turkey, Iran and Syria have often meddled in Iraq, and they may do so again if a power vacuum develops. Although many of these challenges are political and diplomatic, military forces will bear the brunt of any failure.

These obstacles make a sustained intervention a formidable proposition. The military and reconstruction costs will be staggering: troop estimates for the first year often run over 100,000 and the final cost of rebuilding and occupation could be well over $100 billion. The military presence may last a decade or more. In addition, coalition forces risk stirring up a backlash against their presence and will be vulnerable to attacks from terrorists. Support from the United Nations, or even NATO allies, may be limited, given the stark divide that emerged in both bodies over the US-led military action. The weeks before the war saw the rending of NATO and the marginalization of the United Nations, even though these bodies have valuable roles to play in a post-Saddam Iraq.

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