Thursday, September 04, 2003

His orders were simple — to work out agreement between local sheiks and Iraqi customs officials to restore trade with Syria. What was unusual was that the decision had been initiated not by the State Department or civilian administrators in Baghdad, but by Maj. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of the Army's 101st Airborne Division and the dominant political figure in Mosul and the surrounding areas in northern Iraq.

Three months later, there is a steady stream of cross-border traffic, and the modest fees that the division set for entering Iraq — $10 per car, $20 per truck — have raised revenue for expanded customs forces and other projects in the region.

A five-day trip through the 101st Division's large area of operation showed that American military, not the civilian-led occupation authority based in Baghdad, are the driving force in the region's political and economic reconstruction.

The ethnic makeup of the north — a diverse blend of Arabs, Kurds, Turkoman and tribes — is less hostile to the American presence than the troublesome Sunni triangle around Baghdad, although it has the potential for ethnic strife. But that only partly explains the military's relative success here.

Other elements are the early deployment of a potent American force large enough to establish control, the quick establishment of new civil institutions, run by Iraqis, and a selective use of raids to capture hostile groups or individuals while minimizing the disruption to local civilians.

Another factor has been an American commander who approached so-called nation-building as a central military mission and who was prepared to act while the civilian authority in Baghdad was still getting organized.

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