Jewish World Review Jan. 7, 2004 / 13 Teves, 5764

Joseph L. Galloway

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Windows in Iraq | The old year departs and the new one arrives with America embroiled in two and a half wars — Afghanistan, Iraq and the global war on terrorism. The first six months of 2004 will be critical to success or failure in the struggle, both military and civilian, in Iraq.

We dare not fail there or anywhere we are engaged for the encouragement it would lend to our enemies, who are also the enemies of every relatively moderate government in that region, from Pakistan to Kuwait to Saudi Arabia to the Persian Gulf emirates to Jordan and Egypt.

Both America and its enemies will have the same six-month window of opportunity beginning now and stretching to June 30. That's the period before the July 1 hand-over of control in Iraq to a new transitional government.

During that period, eight of the U.S. Army's 10 divisions will be on the move in the biggest rotation of soldiers since the end of World War II.

Four of those divisions will be withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan duty, rotating home for rest and refitting and retraining, while four other divisions and a Marine Expeditionary Force move into harm's way to pull their one-year tour of duty.

During that same period, Ambassador Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority, the civilian arm of this operation, will be trying to conduct elections; stand up an Iraqi army, police force and civilian defense force; create political conditions for the hand-over to the transitional government; and mobilize the spending of $18 billion from U.S. taxpayers on repairing and rebuilding the nation's infrastructure.

Gen. John P. Abizaid, who commands U.S. Central Command, told me in an interview in December that the wholesale transition of forces in Afghanistan and Iraq "is manageable tactically," and the risk is tempered by both the professionalism and the experience of the troops arriving to take over the war.

Many of the officers and soldiers arriving in Afghanistan and Iraq have already been there, Abizaid said, adding, "They know what they're doing."

There will be overlaps of varying lengths between incoming and outgoing units, depending on how difficult the insurgency problem is in a particular area and how much on-the-ground reconnaissance has been done by advance teams from the arriving divisions, Abizaid said.

The enemy's window of opportunity is precisely that mass movement of American forces — 130,000 soldiers leaving and more than 100,000 replacing them.

The roads and highways will be filled with American convoys — prime targets for the improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades that kill Americans every day, although I would hate to be standing in the path of those convoys of soldiers and Guardsmen when they take the road that leads home. They will shoot first and ask questions later.

The enemy also will focus increased efforts on terrorizing and intimidating those inclined to either join or support a new Iraqi government in staffing the ministries and agencies and manning the security and police forces so vital to protecting that government.

The deployment of that multibillion-dollar Iraq aid package voted by Congress ought to make a major impact for good on the lives of the Iraqi people if — and that is a big if — the Americans and the new Iraqi forces can provide enough security so that the projects can be completed without being blown up by the bad guys.

The American administrators also will have their hands full making certain that the local and regional elections that will be the building blocks on which any transitional Iraqi government stands are not only fair but are seen to be fair.

Senior American officials say that half a dozen members of the current Iraqi Governing Council are already maneuvering to cook the books and rig the elections in areas where they either have influence or aspire to control.

If they are allowed to get away with this, it would enrage significant parts of the population, particularly Shiite Muslims and Kurds, who have either supported the American efforts or at least taken a wait-and-see attitude. Then all bets would be off.

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Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Comment by clicking here.


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