WASHINGTON – U.S. military officials insist that the turnover of power to the Iraqi people on June 30 is not an opportunity for a coalition exit, and say U.S. troops will remain in the country indefinitely, worrying some experts who fear a repeat of other recent and unending international operations.
"Coalition forces will remain in Iraq for as long as it takes to help provide security so the Iraqi people can achieve freedom, recover their independence, and take charge of rebuilding their country," Lt. Col. Sam Hudspath, spokesman for U.S. Central Command (search), told Foxnews.com, noting that June 30 date would provide for a political transition, not a military one.
Critics of U.S. policy have warned that the Bush administration's approach to Iraqi independence is creating a climate in which the new government would be considered illegitimate in the eyes of Iraqis.
"We have continually refused to hold elections of any kind, we have tried to manipulate whatever happens in Iraq that occurs politically," said one senior Army official who fought in the first Iraq war and asked not to be named. "We have alienated a large number of Arabs who would have otherwise cooperated with us. We cannot immediately rectify that situation.
"The longer we stay after the [six-month deadline], the more people will be convinced we are imperial occupiers, that we are not liberators and we are not friends," the official added.
"In essence, I feel we overstated our welcome," said Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute (search). "The people who liked us getting rid of the regime are now getting restless. What disturbs them is the indefinite nature of [the occupation]. What we're setting up is an indefinite occupation."
The senior Army official said the United States needs to accomplish several tasks and then vacate the country. First, coalition forces must make an example of insurgents in Fallujah (search) and elsewhere. Then, it must pour money into reconstruction projects and open up industry to create jobs. A final imperative is to train security forces and get them to secure the borders and non-insurgent strongholds – rather than asking them to kill their countrymen.
While the administration has loosely compared the post-Iraq mission to the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after World War II (search), military historians say the similarities are slim. They point out that those two countries were the initial aggressors in the war — the latter having attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor — and that both nations had been decimated and ready to submit to the occupation in 1945.
Those analysts point out this is much different than the pre-emptive strikes in Iraq a year ago, and the mission to "win the hearts and minds" of the people there.
Michael Rubin, who recently served as a political adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority (search) in Baghdad, said President Bush’s intentions for building democracy in the region are genuine, but Iraqis must understand that they are expected to be military and law enforcement partners, not subjects.
Rubin said that prior to the war, the U.S. military failed to outfit and train Iraqis for allied military service. Reports have shown that many of the Iraqi security forces recruited after the fall of Saddam Hussein refused to fight in hotbeds of resistance like Fallujah. Rubin said the U.S.-led coalition now faces the challenge of training Iraqi forces to be capable of securing their own country.
"The object is not for the United States to be the sole source of security," he said, noting that the 36th Battalion of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps has reportedly fought well alongside coalition forces.
"We need to find out why [they] have been so successful and why there is no success in other brigades," he said. "The point being that when training is completed, the Iraqis need to be our partners and eventually the Americans will fade into the background."
The U.S. invested millions of dollars into reconstructing Germany and Japan, and both were given modern constitutions that fostered local and national self-governing bodies. Both are widely considered to be successful democracies, and the U.S. to this day retains some military presence under mutual agreement in both countries.
Some critics say they hope that Iraq will go that way, instead of the way of Bosnia (search) and Kosovo, which have been occupied by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (search) forces since 1995 and 1999 respectively. In both cases, peace has been tenuous, particularly in Kosovo (search), were violence has once again erupted between ethnic Serbs and Albanians.
Critics say NATO’s military presence there is now indefinite, in part because United Nations-imposed agreements were too lofty and did not take into consideration the cultural and ethnic challenges of the region.
"You cannot simply dismiss peoples’ identity. You need to simply respect it, and move on," said the senior Army official. "We’re not doing that in Iraq."
Some believe that it is critical to bring in a multinational force for security post-June 30 to alleviate the hostility towards Americans and ease the burden on U.S. forces.
"[Military presence] is necessary, but it will continue to fuel resentment," said David Phillips, a former adviser to the United Nations Secretariat Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (search) and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"We need a multinational arrangement that advances our goals," he said. "But we seem further away from that goal every day."
Rubin said his recent experiences in Iraq told an opposite story from that of many of the "pundits," many of whom he "suspects never set foot in Iraq." He said the American footprint across the country is still rather small, and that recent violence in places like Fallujah and Najaf are not indicative of the climate in the rest of the country.
He said American military presence post-transition and beyond will ultimately help Iraqis prevail in securing the country. "The Iraqis will handle this (insurgency) and the Americans will handle this in partnership with them."