Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Iraq: What next?

Meeting in Belfast

Suddenly, there is a greater urgency to plan for a post-war Iraq.

President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair conclude a two-day meeting in Belfast today to discuss peace in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East, and how to restore relations with our allies in Europe.

Only a week after critics worried that the allied military operation was bogging down, lightening-quick advances have given our coalition forces control of most of Iraq. We still don't know whether the war will end in a matter of days, weeks or months, but the matter of who will control Iraq in the interim is the next major international hurdle for the Bush administration and our allies.


• Ahmad Chalabi, who for years has lobbied to head a transitional government in Iraq, has joined allied forces in the south, along with more than 700 of his supporters, to work as translators, the U.S. Defense Department said.

• Allied troops control most of Iraq, including symbolic landmarks such as Baghdad International Airport, and occupy several of Saddam Hussein's palaces.

• And American troops Monday discovered the body of the Iraqi general known as "Chemical Ali." The death of the man responsible for the deaths of thousands of Kurds in 1988 is a major blow to Iraq's threat to use chemical attacks on allied troops.

Bush and Blair disagree on what a post-war Iraq should look like, and they will need to work out an agreement soon.

Blair wants a U.N. conference to discuss the makeup of an interim ruling administration in Iraq. Bush is lukewarm to that proposal, but has said the U.N. must play a role, including providing humanitarian relief.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz articulated a reasonable proposal on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday. "The U.N. can be a mechanism for bringing assistance to the Iraqi people. But our goal has to be to transfer the authority and operations of a government as quickly as possible, not to some other external authority, but to the Iraqi people."

Certainly Chalabi can play a key role in such a transition, but the best independent Iraqi government will be one that incorporates new ideas with the insights of people who have been under Saddam's brutal thumb all these years.

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