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More resources, international coalition needed to avoid Iraq disaster, expert says
Although violence is increasing, Iraq should not be compared to Vietnam


The U.S. government must demonstrate renewed military resolve, combined with a more inclusive political strategy, if it is to avoid disaster in Iraq, Hoover Senior Fellow Larry Diamond said last week.

"The Bush administration has not leveled with itself or the American people about the resources that will be needed to achieve any kind of victory in Iraq," Diamond said in a keynote address at a Hoover Institution seminar on the future of democracy in the Middle East. While taking Iraq a year ago "was a piece of cake," he said, holding it "is an entirely different matter."

The conservative think tank presented the April 6 event jointly with the Washington, D.C.-based Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Diamond, who recently returned from Baghdad, where he was a senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) on political transition issues, rejected assertions that Iraq is turning into a new Vietnam for the United States.

"As the violence increases, more and more critics will be uttering the words 'Vietnam' and 'quagmire,'" he said. "But this is not Vietnam -- most Iraqis are disgusted with the violence and clearly want the chance to freely elect their own government."

Despite obstacles and controversies, Diamond defended the Bush administration's June 30 deadline for the CPA to hand over power to an unelected Iraqi interim government. "Any delay in that transfer would only further inflame the situation and feed suspicions that we are bent on permanent dominion in Iraq," he said.

Originally, Diamond said, he had hoped to present an upbeat assessment of efforts to foster a transition to democracy in Iraq. "But anyone who has been watching or reading the news must know that things are really slipping badly fast," he said. While the bloody siege in Fallujah in the Sunni heartland and the gruesome murder of four U.S. security contractors on March 31 have captured news headlines, Diamond said the Shiite uprising led by the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr presents a more ominous development.

"We are locked in a confrontation with a ruthless young thug, leading a fascist political movement that is using religion in a twisted way to achieve its own crude ambitions for power," he said.

Last week, Sadr's followers threw much of central and southern Iraq into anarchy. So far this month, about 70 coalition troops and 700 Iraqi insurgents have been killed, the Associated Press reported April 13. This represents the largest loss of life on both sides since the end of major combat a year ago. (On April 12, Sadr pulled his al-Mahdi army out of police stations in three southern cities, but his followers rebuffed an American demand to disband the country's largest private militia.)

According to Diamond, scholars and historians of Iraq "have long warned that an uprising among the Shiia population would spell doom for the coalition and for any hope of a peaceful transition to anything resembling democracy."

At the heart of the conflict is not a war against the American occupation or international domination, he said. Rather, it is a raw conquest for power. Unless the growing number of pseudo-religious militias are demobilized and disarmed, a transition to democracy in Iraq will become impossible, he said: "The democratic process will be desecrated by strong-arm methods, intimidation and fraud, and the quest for a free and fair political process will drown in a sea of blood."

Diamond described Sadr as a "brilliant street fighter, bully and thug," who knows how to organize and intimidate. The 31-year-old draws support from a particularly dangerous minority -- urban dispossessed young men -- the kind that "makes revolutions and seizes power," he said.

Diamond compared the tactics used by Sadr's militia to those employed by the Nazis. "All of this street action and thuggery is meant to intimidate and cow opponents, to create the sense of an unstoppable force, and to strike absolute fear into the hearts of people who would be so naïve as to think they could shape public policy and power relations by peaceful, democratic means," he said.

The occupying forces have no alternative but to stop Sadr, Diamond argued. "If we back down and say, 'Oh, sorry, we didn't mean it,' we would have absolutely no credibility, and we might as well pack up and go home," he said following his speech.

In addition to crushing Sadr's army and negotiating a demobilization of other private militias, Diamond said, the coalition must improve security along Iraq's borders with Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia. "The Iranian mullahs must understand that we will not stand by and watch them brazenly subvert the quest for democracy in Iraq," he said. "And the same goes for Syria, through which al-Qaeda terrorists are passing freely into Iraq."

Diamond also argued that foreign diplomats, aid workers and contractors need more armored cars, trained security personnel and high-quality body armor to protect them. "If we don't get control of and maintain some reasonable lid on the security situation, the economic, social and physical recovery of the country is not going to be able to proceed," he said. "I guarantee if more civilian contractors continue to be killed, the economic reconstruction effort will falter."

In the next few months, Diamond warned, the United States could lose the "new war" for Iraq if it doesn't project the necessary resolve, combined with the right political strategy, to generate a more inclusive and legitimate government. "But if we can defang and contain the militias, while building up the new Iraqi instruments of a rule of law, a small miracle could yet unfold by January: reasonably free and fair elections for a transitional government," he said. "Then, what now appears a downward spiral into civil war could well be averted, and this long-suffering country could be placed on a rocky but realizable path to democracy."

Larry Diamond

Hoover Institution