The rewards of vigilance

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BAGHDAD – At first glance, the smiling faces of the Iraqi throngs who mobbed


the streets of Baghdad throughout Wednesday were cause for unadulterated




US and British forces, after 12 years, have finally arrived to liberate them


from the terror regime of Saddam Hussein.


The smiles on the faces of the pillaging mobs making off with every piece of


government property they could cart away and burning what remains registered


like a huge sigh of relief trumpeting through all sectors of occupied




'USA! USA! USA!' 'Go Bush!' 'No Saddam!' The calls fell on the soldiers'


ears like confetti in a victory parade. And yet, after the initial sensory


overload, it quickly sank in that the situation is far from simple. The


rampant, uncontrollable looting for instance, while signifying the Iraqis'


sense that their terrorist regime had in fact collapsed, also signified a


total lack of public order.


US forces tried repeatedly to identify someone in the crowds who would be


able to get the message out to the people to go back to their homes, but to


no avail.


There was no one to talk to on Wednesday.


Although the Iraqis understand that the Saddam regime has collapsed, the


psychic distance they have yet to travel from being a people enslaved to a


murderous dictator to being a free and democratic society is long and




For decades, the Iraqis, who never were under democratic rule to being with,


have lived their lives enslaved to Saddam Hussein.


Aside from Iraqi date palm trees, the only distinctive feature of the Iraqi


landscape is Saddam's face. Pictures of Saddam are found on the exterior


walls of almost every building in Baghdad. Saddam is featured carrying a


rifle in one hand and raising his other in a 'heil Hitler' salute. Saddam is


featured as a keffiyeh-clad desert warrior. Saddam is seen in a general's


uniform and a business suit. Saddam is seen kneeling in prayer. While some


of the pictures were torn down by mobs on Wednesday, the mark the Iraqi


dictator made on his people's psyche will not disappear overnight.


'Saddam is a great man,' a smiling Shi'ite named Yasseer said to me as his


neighbors and friends carted bananas away from a government warehouse they


later torched. The crowd of men who had up to that point not spoken any


English suddenly began nodding their heads in agreement.


'One of the most sickening things about this place is how the military is


everywhere,' said company commander Rob Smith Wednesday afternoon.


'Everywhere we go we either pass bunkers, or bases, or large party offices.


The regime has someone working on every block,' he said.


'Saddam is great because he is strong. He controls the people. The Iraqis


are very bad people. Look at how they steal,' Yasseer continued, giving the


troops pause to consider that he is a soldier, not a civilian.


US forces are concentrating their efforts on locating and destroying any


remaining capabilities of Saddam's remaining forces. This includes blowing


up munitions and capturing soldiers.


The troops on the ground being confronted by civilians are forced to


interpret their orders in a way they can live with.


'We are Americans and Americans want to be nice to people. We want to help


them. We want them to like us. We just understand that many of them won't


like us no matter what we do, so it is hard,' said mortar platoon commander


Capt. Matthew Paul.


Street scenes that have become routine since Wednesday morning illustrated


the complexity of the situation and the American way of handling it. On one


side of the road, an Iraqi man who tried to steal a soldier's rifle sat


shackled next to a Bradley fighting vehicle. When he began shouting to his


friends, he was gagged.


Two meters away, an army medic worked to fix the broken leg of an Iraqi


child whose friend had carried him over, begging for help.


The mind-set of the Iraqi people that has crystallized over two days of


intense contact with US forces in Baghdad is one of total confusion and




'We began our patrol of our sector and almost no one came outside. Then we


blew up an armored car we saw hidden and suddenly men appeared on the street


motioning frantically or us to follow them. A squad went out and we found a


cache of two air defense artillery pieces and small arms,' Smith said. 'It


was like they were testing us to see if we are serious or not. When we blew


the first piece, we passed their test.'


The Iraqis are watching the Americans all the time to try ascertain their


intentions. Observing this and bearing in mind the almost indelible stain of


life under tyranny, it is obvious what is most essential today is for US


forces to maintain their vigilant stand against all vestiges of Saddam's




On a grander scale, Washington is also being watched as carefully by the


entire Arab world as the troops in Baghdad are being watched by the Iraqi


people. Just as every mood, glance, and motion made by the soldiers here is


interpreted as either a sign of strength or weakness, resolve or apathy, so


too the Bush administration's words and actions are being interpreted by the


authoritarian Arab regimes throughout the region. There is no doubt that


Iraq is a litmus test for the US's unprecedented plan to bring democracy to


the Arab world.


This week those intentions are being tested in two separate ways. Retired


lieutenant general Jay Garner, whom US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld


has appointed to run the US military government in Iraq, is being attacked


by Arab leaders in the US. The bone of contention is that Garner signed a


statement in October 2000 blaming PA chief Yasser Arafat for the terrorism


in Israel. Arab leaders have for the past several days demanded Garner's


replacement for having dared to stand up in defense of a strategic ally and


friend of his country.


If the Bush administration heeds the call to replace Garner, whose job is to


facilitate a transition from tyranny to military occupation to democratic


self-rule in Iraq, this action will be interpreted not as sensitivity to


Arab sensibilities but as surrender to Arab hatred and backwardness.


Just as the troops in the cities must continuously prove their distinctly


American firmness by helping innocent civilians while giving no quarter to


opposition, so too the administration must keep focus on attaining a stated


objective of forcing the Iraqis to discard the mantle of hatred and slavery


and take on the burden of freedom.


The second front where US intentions are being tested on a strategic level


is in the administration's relations with Britain. There can be no doubt


after the fiasco in the UN Security Council forced US President George W.


Bush's decision to invade Iraq without a Security Council resolution that


the UN will not be a force for democratization in Iraq.


And yet, Prime Minister Tony Blair, already isolated from his EU


counterparts and leftist political base at home, demands a governing role


for the clearly incapable UN. In his Belfast press conference with Blair


earlier in the week Bush made an ambiguous statement regarding the UN's


future role here. Ambiguities may be the proper public attitude towards the


international body now openly dedicated to prolonging tyranny and


undermining democratic governments like the US and Israel.


But on a practical level, for the
Iraqi people to accept freedom, the only


force capable of guiding them will be a US military government.


As an Israeli observer of this unfolding drama, it is impossible not to draw


parallels to the situation back home. The discovery that Palestinians were


among the last holdouts defending Saddam's regime in Baghdad earlier in the


week only strengthens the comparison.


Against the advice and wishes of practically the entire world, the Bush


administration invaded Iraq to depose an illegitimate terrorist regime.



Until Wednesday morning, critics maintained that it couldn't be done even as


the Iraqi military fell apart like a house of cards. Critics continue to


maintain that the Iraqi people will never be brought around to support the


US, and yet a combination of firmness and kindness has already begun, after


only two days, to induce the Iraqi people to cooperate with American




Why should the Palestinians be forced to live under their terrorist leaders


at the same time the Iraqi people are being forced to part with theirs and


to accept a life of freedom? We have been told that there is no option other


than the PLO to lead the Palestinians for more than a decade, yet the PLO


has proven beyond a doubt that like its sister regime in Baghdad it is


capable neither of leading the Palestinians nor of living at peace with free




If the US maintains its commitment to its aim of bringing democracy to Iraq


with the same fortitude it brought to their deposing the Iraqi regime on the


battlefield, America will no doubt be successful. The long term benefit that


will accrue to the US for establishing a friendly democracy in the heart of


the Arab oil fields will be as enormous as the human, diplomatic, and


military sacrifices required to accomplish this most moral and vital




For Israel, there can be no greater aim than destroying the Palestinians'


ability to wreak havoc on the lives of our citizens. But the daily terror


the IDF prevents militarily will only cease to be a threat after the


Palestinians themselves are forced, like the Iraqis are today, to break


their addiction to tyranny and hatred. This can only be done after Arafat's


regime is as wholly destroyed as Saddam's regime has been these past three




Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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