I have taken a six-month leave of absence from the Woodrow Wilson Center to work with the Iraqi Transition Initiative, a project of the International Organization for Migration (IOM)—a United Nations affiliated agency—and experience first-hand the nexus between policymaking and fieldwork. The Iraqi Transition Initiative aims to bridge the gap between emergency relief and longer-term reconstruction with quick impact projects, while encouraging self-governance.

While the welcoming embrace of the Iraqis materialized slower than expected, the rapid assault and swift defeat of Saddam Hussein provides an opportunity for the international community to foster long-term security in Iraq and, hopefully, the Middle East region. Coalition forces, government agencies, the United Nations, and NGOs are attempting to implement key post-conflict reconstruction activities, including humanitarian assistance, security, reconstruction, governance and justice.

As people get back to work, the markets reopen, and efforts begin to repair damages wrought from more than 20 years of tyranny, the situation is slowly improving. Yet looting continues; people are afraid to leave their homes at night; many employees haven't been paid or are looking for work; and the humanitarian emergency still looms.

Still, the spirit of the Iraqis in Basra (where I have been working since coming to Iraq) remains resolute and determined. In the already oppressive heat, people are returning to work, rebuilding, and getting on with their lives. Yet life is not as good as they were promised. The security vacuum created by the defeat of the Ba'ath party has been filled partly by coalition forces but these are war-fighting forces, not peacekeepers or policemen, and their reach is limited.

Until individual and collective security is achieved, it will be difficult to implement successfully the other distinct pillars integral to post-conflict reconstruction: justice and reconciliation, social and economic well being, and governance and participation. People need to feel secure to make the transition from short-term humanitarian relief to long-term sustainability and development.