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PRAGUE - The war to topple
Saddam Hussein began with this announcement on
March 29, 2003, by US President George W Bush: "On
my orders, coalition forces have begun striking
selected targets of military importance to
undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war.
These are the opening stages of what will be a
broad and concerted campaign."
later, Hussein's regime fell.
But if the
rapid defeat of the Iraqi army gave the US
intervention a successful start, subsequent events
revealed the extent of the challenges still ahead.
As Saddam's security apparatus crumbled,
widespread looting broke out, undermining public
confidence that the allied forces were bringing a
At the same time, Saddam
loyalists, as well as Islamic militants and
self-described nationalists, launched a guerrilla
war to sabotage reconstruction efforts. Within
months, Washington also found itself embroiled in
Iraq's domestic political fights as it sought to
guide post-Saddam Iraq to a more democratic
Among its first steps was
appointing mostly formerly exiled political
leaders to an interim Iraqi Governing Council
(IGC). That angered some other Iraqi leaders who
had opposed Saddam but never left the country.
Among those was radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada
al-Sadr, who launched a rebellion.
US military spokesman in Baghdad, General Mark
Kimmitt, described some of the fighting that
resulted in May 2004: "In Baghdad, coalition
forces conducted offensive operations [on May 9]
in Sadr City to reduce attacks and the overall
presence of the Muqtada militia. Starting at [2am]
last evening, coalition forces conducted a cordon
and search in conjunction with the destruction of
the Sadr bureau building, to deny its future use
by Muqtada militia members. Coalition forces
observed numerous counts of RPG [rocket-propelled
grenade] fire from the alleyways directed at their
elements as they approached the Sadr bureau and
encountered numerous other engagements during the
coincided with a separate uprising by insurgents
in the Sunni city of Fallujah, bringing fighting
across central and southern Iraq. The widespread
fighting was the first big test for US-led forces
since the invasion and foreshadowed a second,
almost identical round of combat in Fallujah and
with Sadr's followers in southern Iraq late in
Amid such crises, the US made
several key changes to its strategy for Iraq's
development. One was to shorten the period of its
civil administration of Iraq from an initially
discussed time frame of up to several years to
just a little more than one year. The other was to
abandon efforts to convene a caucus of Iraqi
leaders selected on a representative, regional
basis to choose Iraq's first post-Saddam sovereign
bodies of government. Instead, it let the
US-appointed IGC create a sovereign caretaker
government to lead the country to the first round
of direct elections that will take place on
January 30, this Sunday.
The decision to
proceed quickly to a direct election was in
response to strong pressure from Iraq's Shi'ite
majority - particularly preeminent cleric Grand
Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But it carries high
political risks. That is because the direct
elections are almost certain to bring the Shi'ites
- some 60% of the population - to power after
decades of Sunni dominance.
unclear to what extent the Sunnis are ready to
accept such a result. Some community leaders have
called for boycotting the election, saying it will
turn power over to the Shi'ites. Some political
leaders have withdrawn from the race, citing
security concerns, while others are participating.
On December 27, the head of the Sunni
mainstream Iraqi Islamic Party, Muhsin Abd
al-Hamid, announced his party's withdrawal. "We
announced our withdrawal and not boycott [of the
elections]. We already announced we would take
part in these elections under certain conditions,"
he said. "These conditions were not met. The
elections will not be 'general' until they cover
all parts of Iraq."
With the extent of
Sunni participation still uncertain, there is some
talk in Washington and Baghdad about finding a way
to draw Sunnis into the postwar political system
if the poll fails to do so.
Shi'ite politician, interim Planning Minister
Mahdi al-Hafidh, called for finding a strategy of
"national reconciliation" after the January 30
vote. "The national interest requires the adoption
of a strategy for national reconciliation for the
post-election period," he said. "Under such a
strategy, it is very important to include all
elements who believe in a new democratic
experience in Iraq."
intervention in Iraq continues to be watched with
concern in Europe and elsewhere in the world,
where criticism of the 2003 invasion remains high
after no weapons of mass destruction were found.
European Union High Representative for
Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana
said it would be a "disaster" if the Sunnis did
not participate in the vote. "I don't think that
Iraq could be stable if the Sunnis do not
participate in the political process," he said.
"And, therefore, if they do not participate in
these elections, they have to make - we have to
make, everybody has to make - all the efforts to
get them to participate in the drafting of the new
constitution and the new electoral process
[following the constitution]."
Nations approved holding the January 30 vote as
part of the transition plan for Iraq it endorsed
in a resolution in June that welcomed Washington's
return of sovereignty to Iraq.
Iraqis will directly elect a National Assembly
that will choose the next interim government and
oversee the writing of the country's first
post-Saddam constitution. Iraq is due to hold a
nationwide referendum in October to approve the
new constitution. It is also to hold an election
before the end of the year to replace the
government chosen by the National Assembly with a
constitutional government directly elected by the
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