April 06, 2003

Field Report I just got

Field Report

I just got off the phone with Michael Kocher of the International Rescue Committee who was in southern Iraq two days ago and is now back in Kuwait City. He was among the first U.S. NGO representatives to enter Umm Qasr and surrounding areas (CNN International had a story on the trip yesterday). I've known Michael since we worked together in the Balkans in the mid-90s and highly respect his judgment. He relayed to me that the humanitarian situation in cities like Umm Qasr is somewhat difficult, though not critical or desperate. That said, he stressed that water supplies are urgently needed.

In addition, he mentioned that simple peasant families queried him about whether coalition forces were coming as liberators or occupiers. He was also shown unexploded ordnance (including cluster munitions) and queried about when the international community would remove such bombs from their land.

I didn't directly ask Michael, but by reading between the lines of what he was relaying, I got the sense that a good 50%-55% of the chillier than expected reception by Shi'a in the south could be attributed to continuing fear that Saddam loyalists, fedayeen etc. will avenge "traitorous" behavior were coalition forces were to move on leaving the population unprotected. Another 25% or so might be attributed to how quickly water supplies and other humanitarian aid gets up and running effectively. The remaining 20-25% or so could be attributed to the fears underpinning the Iraqi peasant's query, ie. why are coalition forces in Iraq? To liberate or occupy? In addition, where more civilian deaths occurred due to the allied campaign the mood appeared, predictably, more cautious regarding U.S./U.K. intentions.

The lessons are clear. Fedayeen and other Saddam loyalists must be eliminated or apprehended as expeditiously as possible. Major attention needs to be focused on ensuring rapid delivery of humanitarian aid. That takes care of the underlying causes of about 75% of the suspicion among Iraqi civilians about U.S. intentions. Then the even harder and more nuanced task(s) awaits. The U.S. will have to make all best efforts to ensure that an interim coalition administration hands power over to the Iraqis with dispatch. That said, however, a strong coalition presence will be needed to stem revanchist killings and ensure the territorial integrity of Iraq--a benign MacArthur if you will. So it's going to be a tough balancing act--and all this once the conflict is won. Remember, this is just day 18 of the war. Major tasks await both to conclude the conflict and effectively win the peace.

Posted by Gregory at April 6, 2003 05:35 PM
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