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Wednesday, April 30, 2003
Deja vu, the umpteenth

In 1969, British troops were sent into Belfast, Northern Ireland in an attempt to stop sectarian violence. The soldiers were welcomed with open arms by the beleaguered Catholics but it wasn't long until perceptions changed.

Whether or not the IRA expected or encouraged this to happen, the soldiers were soon regarded as occupiers. Bloody Sunday followed. Community relationships, whatever the reason for the massacre, never recovered.

The situation has parallels with that in Iraq: troops cannot be relied upon to keep order in such situations, especially if their terms of engagement allow them to open fire in 'self-defence'.

Whatever the reality, American troops will be perceived as vicious occupiers. Successions of public relations disasters, of which the shootings in Falluja on successive days are the latest examples, will outweigh any positive steps. Was it my imagination or did I see a 'Come back Saddam Hussein' protest on TV a few days ago?

The US is in a 'lose-lose' bind. They will not be able to control the population long enough to get anything constructive done. The only people with enough experience (and clean hands, of a sort) are the Germans and Japanese. However, they were occupied for years. There is no short-term solution.

What Iraq needs is a civilian administration with knowledge of how to 'de-Nazify' a country without pushing people into the arms of a different bunch of extremists. The Americans have neither the time nor the inclination. Unfortunately, they are unlikely to hand the problem over to (or even ask for help from) the UN.

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