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Iraq Through A Balkan Lens

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    IRAQ THROUGH A BALKAN LENS Past U.S. Efforts Shed Doubt On Post-War Rebuilding Of Iraq by Russ Baker If this place is indicative of the U.S. commitment after
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 3 5:16 PM
      Past U.S. Efforts Shed Doubt On Post-War Rebuilding Of Iraq

      by Russ Baker

      "If this place is indicative of the U.S. commitment after the bombs
      stop falling, the future Iraq won't be a pretty picture."

      Belgrade: Iraq Through A Balkan Lens
      Past U.S. Efforts Shed Doubt On Post-War Rebuilding Of Iraq

      New York-based Russ Baker is an award-winning journalist who covers
      politics and media.

      Is the Bush administration's promise to create a democratic paradise
      in a post-Saddam Iraq for real -- or just more salesmanship for war?
      To answer this crucial question, we would do well to examine recent
      experiences elsewhere. Afghanistan could still surprise, but so far,
      the country's intractable societal problems seem utterly unmatched
      by U.S. vision and commitment, financial or moral. For now, a better
      predictive model might be the former Yugoslavia, a fundamentally
      modern country with a decent infrastructure and relatively educated
      populace where Washington has now had several years to institute
      reforms. Yet, if this place is indicative of the U.S. commitment
      after the bombs stop falling, the future Iraq won't be a pretty

      On almost all fronts, peace and prosperity, transformation and
      transparency, democracy and public confidence seem as far away as
      ever. So few Serbs turned out for the first post-Milosevic
      presidential elections, held in October, that the runoff results had
      to be nullified. Neither of the two top candidates talked honestly
      about war crimes or discussed ways to secure a lasting regional
      peace. Along with apathy and skepticism, nationalist rhetoric
      carried the day. The military retains undisputed power and autonomy.
      Former cronies of Milosevic suspected of complicity in war crimes
      remain in positions of power. The effort to create a free market is
      led by a prime minister widely suspected of enriching himself and
      his friends. Monopolies and mafia-esque businessmen dominate many

      In Bosnia, instead of guaranteeing peace and security, U.S. troops
      were directed to focus on so-called "force protection." The military
      brass can point with pride to the fact that this policy has, to
      date, resulted in not one attack on U.S. soldiers. But what else has
      the mission accomplished? The first U.S. commander of joint forces
      on the ground there declared that the troops' only responsibility
      would be separating combatants, and claimed (incorrectly) that he
      had no mandate to capture war criminals. With a few notable
      exceptions, troops in Bosnia repeatedly balked at taking meaningful
      actions. They were even sent into retreat by rock-throwing crowds.
      Foreign Muslim fundamentalist units operated in the U.S. sector from
      at least 1995 until Sept. 11, 2001 but American troops refused to
      patrol villages or take action against them -- least of all to kick
      them out, as they should have, under the Dayton Accords.

      Despite the creation, on paper, of a multiethnic central government,
      today the "country" of Bosnia is effectively governed by three
      separate, nationalist governments, one Serb, one Croat, one Muslim.
      The bad guys, warlords and sectarians were left largely in place.
      Local elections have been shams. And without military protection,
      little progress has been made toward returning refugees to their
      homes, an essential ingredient if the region is to be stabilized.

      In recent months, a vigorous U.N. high commissioner has been trying
      to rectify matters, and, in Kosovo, there appears to be a concerted
      effort to learn from mistakes in Bosnia. But in both places the same
      political problems remain, structures for modernization are absent,
      there are virtually no prospects for economic reform, and resources
      are running out. Most importantly, in light of discussions of
      emulating in Iraq a post-World War II Japan-style military
      occupation, Washington's interest in the Balkans seems to be fading
      fast. While U.S. diplomats and international NGOs on-site are making
      a creditable effort, without the full commitment of the White House
      it's hard to move forward.

      Based on the experience here, can anyone believe that U.S. forces
      are any more likely to locate and remove the "war criminals" who
      helped perpetuate Saddam's reign of terror? Will the United States
      do what is necessary to replace regional and local officials who
      ally themselves with criminal elements for personal gain, much less
      prevent remnants of Saddam's elite military unit leadership and
      secret police from establishing fiefdoms and blocking change? Iraq,
      a country with a Shiite Muslim majority, is controlled by its Sunni
      minority; the long suppressed Kurds want their own homeland. What
      will it take to suppress the religious and ethnic rivalries that are
      likely to emerge in the vacuum created by Saddam's fall?

      The evidence from the Balkans and Afghanistan suggests that
      Washington will not carry the ball. Can we depend on the Arab
      League? At least in Serbia, a vigorous opposition existed. But
      nothing of the sort is to be found in Iraq, and the émigré community
      leadership inspires grave doubts among knowledgeable observers. If
      the Bush administration is not willing to focus on the hard work to
      be done in the former Yugoslavia, who believes for a second it will
      make the kind of commitment to transform Iraq into a success story?

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      Published: Nov 14 2002
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