View Full Version : The fog of peace

05-08-03, 06:06 AM
The fog of peace
By Michael R. Gordon
New York Times
Wednesday, May 7, 2003

BAGHDAD Apache helicopter gunships zoomed toward a band of paramilitary fighters who were stealing crates of ammunition from an arms cache near Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit. As the Iraqis tried to make a getaway, the Apaches opened fire, turning the paramilitaries' truck into a hunk of twisted metal and killing 14.

This is not an old war episode. It took place Wednesday night, just a day before President Bush flew to the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln to announce the end of major combat operations in Iraq. And it illustrates the complicated mission American forces now face as they try to bring stability to Iraq.

American forces are operating in a netherworld between war and peace. One moment they may be working on restoring electrical power and the next they may be involved in a vicious firefight. The foe is any of a broad array of forces that oppose the new order: die-hards from the old regime, criminal bands, Iranian agents, suicide bombers and power-hungry Iraqi political factions.

"We are moving into stability operations, and stability operations are characterized by momentary flare-ups of violence," Brig. Gen. Daniel Hahn, the chief of staff for the Army's V Corps, said on Thursday. "It will look at times like we are still at war."

By conventional measures, the war in Iraq has been over for weeks. Allied forces have overthrown the government, moved into Saddam Hussein's palaces and started to patrol the streets of the capital.

But the United States' ultimate goal was not just to topple Mr. Hussein but to stabilize the country and install a friendly government. The American calculation is that as basic services are restored, leaders take power and oil revenue begins flowing, most Iraqis will conclude that they have stake in the emerging order. Gradually, Iraqis will take over policy and other security tasks so they can run the country on their own.

The American military's task is to provide the security in the meantime. The new mission now involves destroying forces that disrupt the new order, prevent agents from Iran and Syria from meddling in Iraq's affairs, and prevent power grabs like the one attempted by Muhammad al-Zubeidi, the self-appointed Baghdad administrator whose insistent efforts to take control landed him in American detention last Sunday.

This is more of an endurance contest than a sprint. It also depends heavily on good intelligence and the cooperation of Iraqi citizens to help locate troublemakers. American forces have shifted from a campaign that was measured in days and weeks to a mission that will take months, if not years.

"As these things move out, more and more people will want to turn away from the violence," General Hahn said. "I expect it to become easier and easier to get rid of these bad actors. Then there will be just a few elements that will go to ground and we will just have to deal with that. It is not to be expected that everything will be rosy and benign. For some time in the future, elements will remain that will not like the direction that the new Iraqi nation is taking."

The past few days have been a taste of what is in store.

On Wednesday, a man was shot near Kut as he tried to run over two marines at a checkpoint.

The same day, soldiers from the Third Infantry Division in Baghdad found a truckload of bombs. They were hidden inside soccer balls, according to the division's report to the V Corps. A soldier from another of the division's units was wounded during a patrol in the capital.

In Falluja on Thursday, two grenades were thrown at soldiers from the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, wounding seven. The attack followed several days of disturbances in the city where American soldiers exchanged fire with an unknown number of attackers as civilians carried out demonstrations against the American presence. As many as 17 Iraqis including civilians, according to local residents were killed.

In response to those attacks, American commanders plan to seek out former Baath Party officials they believe are behind the provocation. Crowd control techniques the use of loudspeakers to influence mobs, rubber bullets and pepper spray will also be added to the repertoire of the American troops stationed there.

In Tikrit, the attempted ammunition heist began when scouts from the Fourth Infantry Division detected paramilitary fighters raiding an arms cache. About five of the paramilitary fighters were attacked and killed. When more returned, they were blasted by Apache gunships.

Civil affairs forces have been focusing on restoring essential services and helping Iraqis get back on their feet. But they, too, have been targets at times. Four were recently shot by a lone gunman as they made their way through congested traffic to the Ministry of Health. One of the wounded soldiers shot and killed the attacker.

Each day provides a fresh list or incidents, which are reported up the chain of command. It is part of the routine. The combat phase may be over but the war is not.

The ultimate success of the American military intervention in Iraq will depend on political factors that are beyond the control of American forces, including the emergence of an effective Iraqi leadership. But the political goals cannot be achieved unless order is maintained and the Iraqis understand that the die-hard defenders of the old regime are neutralized once and for all.

The task will require the ability to take setbacks in stride, efforts by the military to forge a good working relationship with the Iraqi population and one of the rarest of American characteristics: patience.