THEY are everywhere in
Baghdad, the young men and women of the U.S. armed forces, patrolling
the streets in humvees in tandem with newly rehired Iraqi policemen,
directing traffic, and blocking key streets.
They are guarding banks as Iraqi children peer into tank windows.
Soldiers are shopping in groups of three or four in grocery stores on
Karada Street for food to supplement the military's monotonous
Two things strike me as I chat with these cheerful kids from Missouri or the Florida Panhandle.
First, they are very vulnerable. The spate of armed attacks on U.S.
troops is still few in number and probably the product of disgruntled
Saddamists. Iraqis are in a state of suspended animation, glad Saddam
is gone, but anxious about when the Americans will restore water,
electricity and security -- and an Iraqi government.
Second, these kids are part of an occupying army. The United Nations
Security Council resolution that the Bush administration pushed through
last week made the occupation official. It recognized the United States
and Great Britain as ``occupying powers.''
This is a very big shift. Until very recently, U.S. officials spoke
only of ``liberation,'' not occupation. Plans were afoot to hold a
political conference in Baghdad that would transfer political power to
an interim Iraqi government.
In the last couple of weeks, all that has changed, in ways that make me nervous for those kids on Karada Street.
U.S. officials were stunned by the anarchy and looting that hit
Iraqi cities after Saddam fell. They didn't expect it and weren't
prepared to handle it. The White House rushed in a tough new civilian
viceroy, ex-diplomat Paul Bremer, to try to restore some order.
Bremer's instincts are partly right. As the heat rises to 100
degrees, he must restore basic services such as electricity (and air
conditioning), water, garbage collection and policing. Already, one
hears dark charges by educated and ordinary folk alike that America has
destroyed Baghdad to justify occupation and seize Iraqi oil.
But, as the magnitude of his task hits home, Bremer seems ready to
freeze the Iraqi political process. The conference of Iraqi political
parties that was to pick an interim government may never be held.
Instead, he looks ready to settle for appointing an interim
``authority'' of Iraqi technocrats.
This will leave the United States out in the open as occupier
without any credible Iraqi partner. When things go wrong, all the blame
will fall on U.S. shoulders.
Already, the former opposition groups (now relocated to Baghdad) who were set to convene the conference are voicing anger.
``They told us, `Liberation now,' and then they made it
occupation,'' said Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress.
``Bush said he was a liberator, not an occupier, and we supported the
United States on this basis.''
The arguments for outright occupation may look compelling on paper.
The short-term tasks facing the administration in Iraq -- about which
it never forewarned Americans -- are staggering. The entire Iraqi
economy is at a standstill, and, having disbanded the army and the
Baath party, U.S. officials have created hundreds of additional jobless
who could make trouble in the future.
And setting up an interim government would be a huge challenge. The
Group of Seven -- the seven leaders of political parties and groups who
were organizing the conference -- doesn't represent all Iraqis. Some in
the group are controversial.
Without a credible Iraqi governing partner, the United States will
stand uncomfortably exposed -- both in Iraq and abroad. After a few
months, Iraqis will chafe under American rule.
``You need a political partner,'' says Hoshyar Zebari, spokesman for
the Kurdish Democratic Party, another conference convener. ``A
government made up of technocrats won't survive long. It won't have
``If there is a national government, people can make their
complaints. Now they must go to the Americans. We told the Americans:
Why take all the blame?''
Trudy Rubin is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.