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Comment: Disarming Iraq

By Haytham el-Salimi in Basra (ICR No. 22, 17-June-03)

And not only light weapons. Also automatic and heavy weapons that were abandoned by the Iraqi army and affiliated militias as Saddam's regime collapsed in early April under the weight of the US-led assault to remove Saddam from power.

Mothers fear for the lives of their children as common criminals freed under an October amnesty raid private homes and steal everything from cars to furniture, quite ready to kill on sight. Looters and political groups who want to make their presence felt, and who understand no other means of achieving their goals, add to the chaos.

Many Iraqis believe that some religious activists are also arming themselves and are deeply resentful of this. Religious sectarianism holds no attraction for most Iraqis. They believe it would worsen their suffering. They do not want a totalitarian regime like that of Saddam Hussein to rise to power on any pretext whatsoever.

Two months after Saddam's regime collapsed, law-abiding Iraqis believe it has become urgent to normalise life. In the first place, the forces who control Basra must make rigorous searches for illegal weapons, especially those held by members of Saddam's Ba'ath Party and affiliated militias.

The revival of legal and judicial authorities must be made a priority and confidence given in the coalition forces' ability to enforce peace and bring lawbreakers to trial. Elements of Saddam's army and police force should be used to form the core of national law-enforcing authorities rather than be allowed to roam unchecked and perhaps fall into criminal ways out of frustration and economic hardship. But all recently freed criminals must be rounded up and, if allowed to remain in freedom, have their movements monitored.

At the same time, ordinary citizens must be given confidence in good services and a stable currency, with some prospects for the revival of a viable economy. That means all illegal trading in money and goods must be banned. Rehabilitation projects and reconstruction of the country's infrastructure must be given a real push. Jobs must be created for all.

Unless these steps are taken - and soon - "liberated" Iraq risks becoming a society beset by multiple crises. The window of opportunity for a new and better society opened by the toppling of Saddam Hussein will be lost.

Haytham el-Salimi is a sports trainer and freelance journalist.

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