D-Day for Iraq

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - There's been some good political news out of Iraq in recent days. The newly installed - and now U.N.-blessed - Iraqi government is made up of some really decent people. There is hope. But it will not be realized if the sort of incident that happened last weekend keeps being repeated.

Two American and two Polish employees of Blackwater USA, a security contractor, were killed in an ambush on the main road from Baghdad airport to downtown. Remember a year ago when Saddam Hussein's spokesman, the wacky "Baghdad Bob," claimed that U.S. forces didn't control the airport? We shouldn't have laughed. A year later, we still do not fully control the main road from the airport to Baghdad. You can't build anything under those conditions.


It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry when you hear President Bush comparing D-Day to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the war on terrorism. If President Franklin D. Roosevelt had thrown the meager manpower resources into D-Day that Mr. Bush threw into Iraq a year ago, France would be a German-speaking country today.

Alas, it is too late now to send a lot more U.S. troops, if we had them. Now that the interim Iraqi government is assuming sovereignty, it will be increasingly important for U.S. forces to assume a lower profile, to get out of the faces of Iraqis at checkpoints and to eliminate any impression that Iraq is still under U.S. occupation or that the new Iraqi government is our puppet.


The whole strategy of the bad guys in Iraq now is to wreak havoc and try to provoke a U.S. military reaction that might accidentally kill a lot of Iraqis - in the hope that this will delegitimize the new Iraqi officials as ineffective U.S. flunkies.

We are up against some really evil, cynical forces: die-hard Baathists, al-Qaida-inspired Islamists and criminals. They continue to kill large numbers of innocent Iraqis without ever spelling out a political demand. That's because their only interest is that America fail. They have no coherent vision for Iraq. Their only vision is that America must fail. Because if the United States succeeds in tilting Iraq onto a more progressive track, Baathism and Islamism will be diminished everywhere.

There is nothing more difficult to fight than an enemy whose only interest is that you fail and who has no interest in building a positive alternative. That kind of enemy can only be overwhelmed and crushed.

But the D-Day solution for Iraq is not for America to throw all its troops into Iraq. As I said, it's too late for that. It is for America to throw all its resources into getting Iraqi soldiers trained and able to take on their own opposition.

Only Iraqis will find out who their bad guys are and have the legitimacy to defeat them. As Stanford University democracy specialist Larry Diamond, a former U.S. adviser in Baghdad, put it: "If you don't have security in Iraq, you don't have anything. We have to throw everything we have - everything - into getting the new Iraqi forces operating effectively."

How close are we to that?

I called Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus in Baghdad, the widely respected U.S. commander for rebuilding the Iraqi army. He told me that contracts for more than $3 billion worth of equipment, uniforms, training facilities, weaponry, bases and communications gear for the new Iraqi army are finally being signed and executed - so by the end of the summer, a lot of it should be getting to units.

Moreover, he said, the first battalion of Iraqi internal security forces, trained for urban warfare, will be deployed in Baghdad. If the training stays on schedule, says General Petraeus, a critical mass of trained Iraqi army, civil defense and police forces should be up and running by January, in time for elections.


"Early on, just after we got here, we talked a lot about how to win Iraqi hearts and minds, and get them to like us," General Petraeus said. "But we understand now that what we really need is for them to love the new Iraq. That is what needs to happen. Bombs are going to go off every day, but what we need to do is somehow keep looking to the longer term and focus on building the new Iraq. We just need to keep our heads down, be patient and keep driving on. This is really, really hard work."

That's what this D-Day looks like. It is not a single charge up a Normandy beach, but a long, hard slog to train an Iraqi army to finish the war that we started. This is the Iraqis' real war of independence. If they beat back the bad guys and hold elections, they'll be free of us and the worst of their past. If they don't or can't, this will be our Waterloo, and theirs.

Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun.