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The deck of cards with the pictures of the 55 most wanted Iraqi leaders is shrinking, with more and more fugitives caught and brought in for questioning every day.

The question is how a totalitarian regime like that of Saddam's, in which every policeman, every teacher and every chemical-weapons specialist were part of the control mechanism, produces only 55 wanted men. Why are Iraqi commanders who used chemical weapons against the Kurds in Halabja in 1988 not on the list? Two of the leaders with "blood on their hands" - Iraq's former chief of intelligence, Wafiq Samarrai, and former chief of staff, Nizar Khazraji - are not only absent from the list: they are counseling the United States' forces. Shi'ite religious leaders that openly incited against American presence in Iraq have not been arrested, and the demonstrators who screamed "death to America" were not driven away with tear gas or with shots in the air and to the legs.

The reason is that the U.S. forces are in the "pre-occupation" stage. In this transition period, there is still no local government that can be put in charge, and the foreign military forces are trying to avoid assuming direct control and the flaring up of conflicts. This is the stage in which any demonstration or incitement is embraced under the banner of civil rights.

Next comes the stage of "enlightened occupation." In this stage, the occupier engages in construction of infrastructure and utilities, reconstruction of bridges and roads, visits to local dignitaries - which the current governor, Jay Garner, has already started, identifying the local power brokers and promoting a "friendly" local government. The occupation continues until this friendly government creates its own army and police and until the occupier is convinced that the intentions of this local government are to its liking. But what then?

There are three possible scenarios for Iraq. Under the optimistic one, the Americans will appoint a temporary government that will prepare elections for a representative Iraqi government. The U.S. will form a new police force and army, pull out gradually and hand over all authorities to the locals. Under the pessimistic scenario, however, an armed resistance will emerge against American presence; military arms will branch out from religious and national organizations; and terrorism will surge, until the U.S. will have to decide whether to let Iraq crash or stay there long-term.

The third scenario combines the first two: unable to reach constitutional consensus as to the character of the new government, a local government will be operating under emergency legislation; elections will be avoided in order not to allow the Shi'ites to take control; armed opposition to the Americans will emerge; and the American forces will stay on to look after the oil fields. At this point, the list of wanted Iraqis will likely add up to an entire book.

Each of these scenarios will impact the region to a great extent. Direct U.S. control in a foreign country cannot be equated with Israel's occupation of the territories or with Syria's influence in Lebanon. The status that the U.S. has in the region has direct bearing on that of its allies, like Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and may impact countries that might be contemplating a change in allegiance, such as Iran and Syria.

Strong liberal factions in the Arab world may still be keeping a low profile, but are nevertheless eagerly awaiting the opportunity to copy the Iraqi example as presented by President Bush, and are greatly concerned that the outcome might turn out to be more like Afghanistan.

The swift victory in Iraq shocked the region, but the duration and mainly the nature of the occupation will determine whether fear of the U.S. will play a role in creating a new reality, or whether this fear will eventually wane and American rule in Iraq will follow Israel's track in Lebanon or the Soviet Union's in Afghanistan.