As U.S.-led military operations in Iraq intensify, the one thing that does not seem to be in doubt is the outcome of the war. But the outcome of the peace is a different matter. While few doubt the ability of coalition forces to defeat the Iraqi regime, questions remain about the prospects for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. How long will it take to establish stability and order within Iraq? Will coalition forces become targeted by terrorists? How will Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction be secured and dismantled? What will be done with Iraq’s extensive oil reserves? Will the Iraqi people suffer a humanitarian crisis, with shortages of food, water and medicine? Will there be large outflows of refugees? Will the Kurds in the north demand independence or greater autonomy that could lead them into conflict with Turkey? Will there be infighting amongst Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious groups?

One reason why answers are hard to come by is that the U.S. has not yet detailed its post-war plans. In broad terms, the U.S. has indicated its preference for a democratic or representative government that maintains the territorial integrity of Iraq, while respecting minority rights. But such a government will not emerge overnight in a diverse and war-torn country that has known only authoritarian rule, and it is not clear how Iraq will be governed in the short-term. Some argue that Iraq should be administered under the auspices of the U.S. military; others counter that the U.N. must take over civil administration as soon as possible in order to enhance international legitimacy; and others – including many of Iraq’s exiled opposition – favor the quickest possible transfer of power to an Iraqi interim authority. In between, there are many formulas for how the “coalition of the willing” might work in tandem with the U.N., Iraqis, and other international partners.

On March 11, the Wilson Center’s Conflict Prevention Project convened a meeting to look at some of the myriad of challenges presented by the prospective post-conflict situation in Iraq. Presenting at the meeting were Kenneth Bacon, President and CEO of Refugees International; Patrick Clawson, Deputy Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Bathsheba Crocker, a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow.

While there were differences of opinion as to how forthcoming the Bush administration has been in its post-conflict planning, there was wide consensus that a specific scenario is hard to pin down because war changes the facts on the ground in dramatic ways. The war itself will determine the extent that Iraq’s infrastructure needs rebuilding, and the magnitude of the humanitarian challenges faced by the Iraqi people. It also remains to be seen how Iraqis will respond to occupying coalition forces, and how Iraq’s disparate groups will relate to one another once they are loosed from the grip of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Thus flexibility in planning is a necessity, and a single blueprint for post-war Iraq is not practical.

Mr. Bacon stressed the need for coalition forces to cooperate effectively with humanitarian organizations, and the urgency of funding humanitarian initiatives. While wars are characterized by unforeseen developments, there are many lessons that we have learned about getting food and water to affected civilian populations, caring for the sick and wounded, and managing large groups of displaced peoples. A vital lesson is the need for effective civil-military cooperation in administering aid. As the conflict develops, military forces and civilian relief agencies must coordinate their efforts to promptly address the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi population – this will demand communication, trust, clearly defined roles, and effective points of transition from military to civilian authority.

Both Dr. Clawson and Ms. Crocker addressed the administration of a post-conflict Iraq. Dr. Clawson cited Bush administration plans for a U.S.-led military administration of Iraq during a period of stabilization, in which law and order is restored to the country. This would be followed by a transfer of power to Iraqis, who would resent prolonged governance of their country by outsiders. Dr. Clawson stressed that the transfer of power and process of democratization should be decentralized, with checks and balances installed within the Iraqi political system to avoid further authoritarian rule, and an initial emphasis on elections at a regional – rather than national – level. The U.N. and other international partners would provide assistance over the course of this transfer of power, particularly in the areas of humanitarian aid and reconstruction, but would not govern the country.

Ms. Crocker, who co-authored a January, 2003 CSIS report titled, “A Wiser Peace: An Action Strategy for Post-Conflict Iraq,” argued that an international transitional administration – endorsed by the U.N. Security Council – would best oversee the process of stabilization and reconstruction in Iraq. She pointed out that a U.S.-led military administration could fuel anti-American sentiment both abroad and within Iraq. She also cited the need to separate military operations from humanitarian work, and the difficult question of integrating the Iraqi army into stabilization efforts. Without a clear plan for dealing with the Iraqi army, Iraqi soldiers could simply add to the numbers of displaced peoples in the country, and may even hamper efforts to restore law and order.

With the diplomatic fissures exposed in the U.N. Security Council at the commencement of war in Iraq, agreement between the U.S. and some of its allies on a post-conflict administration is sure to be difficult. The U.S. may be less inclined to work through the U.N. and the Security Council, institutions that have been identified by some in the U.S. as bureaucratic impediments to action and mechanisms for constraining U.S. interests. Conversely, opponents to the U.S.-led war – notably France, Germany and Russia – may be reluctant to commit their support and resources to a post-conflict administration that retroactively “legitimizes” military action in Iraq, while advancing U.S. objectives in the region. Thus divisions within the Security Council may persist.

What is beyond dispute is the magnitude and urgency of the task in Iraq. War will leave a power vacuum and, potentially, a humanitarian crisis within a large and important country. There is widespread agreement that the desired end result is a stable and disarmed Iraq, with a population that has been spared a humanitarian catastrophe, and a government that serves the interests of its people and the stability of the region. How we get there is still a matter of dispute.

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