IN typical Hollywood-style fanfare, the four-seater Viking jet named Navy One – with President George W. Bush in the co-pilot seat – made a tail-hook landing on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of California.
Dressed in a flight suit and helmet under his arm, the US President had come on board to welcome home the men and women in uniform after almost 10 months at sea and to announce that the military phase of the war in Iraq was over.
Bush described the battle to topple Saddam Hussein as a victory in the war against terror that began on Sept 11, 2001, and also the removal of an Al-Qaeda ally.
The administration has never been able to prove any connection between Iraq and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon but it has repeated the possibility of a link so often that ordinary Americans now seem to believe that Iraq was involved.
Exactly 43 three days earlier, the first US missiles hit Iraq in a war that has turned out to be the swiftest in American history.
While the US may feel buoyant about removing the Saddam regime, it has fallen short in a number of its goals – the main one being finding weapons of mass destruction.
Also, Saddam, his sons and top officials of the deposed government have not been accounted for.
Now the people whom they liberated want them out. Almost daily and in growing numbers, Iraqis hold anti-American demonstrations (one resulted in locals being shot by Marines).
At the same time, the various groups within the country vying for control are feuding while Iraqis in exile who have returned do not seem to have any support.
While winning the war was a foregone conclusion, given America’s overwhelming firepower, it was the second part – that of rebuilding and bringing about a new democratic Iraq – which has been of major concern to countries opposed to the war.
No clear plan for Iraq seems to have emerged although there have been some effort to form a transition government. Lawlessness pervades in certain parts of the country and essential services like water, electricity, sewage lines and medical services have not been fully restored.
The presence of Pentagon appointee Lt-Gen (R) Jay Garner, who is in charge of the post-war administration, has not been particularly effective although he has been well received by parties seeking to form the transition government.
Much of the problem has stemmed from feuding between the Defence Department and the State Department as to who was to lead the reconstruction of post-war Iraq. Given the swift military success, Pentagon was given the task of setting up the transition government.
Several weeks down the line, Garner has moved into Iraq and yet there does not seem to be any form of administration taking shape. An occupying military administration is always looked upon with suspicion and distrust.
Now, the Bush administration plans to name a high-level civilian to direct the selection of the transition government and take over control of other functions overseen by the military.
According to The New York Times, former ambassador L. Paul Bremer, who was counter-terrorism director in the Reagan administration, is expected to assume the new post.
The report said the choice of Bremer was seen as a victory for the State Department. It also came following pressure from Britain, Arab nations and members of the United Nations Security Council for a civilian face to head the Iraqi occupation.
Relief organisations, especially those from Europe, had stated that working with military authorities violated their internal regulations.
Bremer, who is chairman and chief executive officer of the Crisis Consulting Practice of Marsh Inc, a world leader in risk services, was appointed to the President’s Homeland Security Advisory Council in June last year.
As one of the foremost authorities on terrorism, he was in 1999 appointed Chairman of the Nations Commission on Terrorism.
During the Reagan administration, he served as Ambassador-at-Large for Counter-Terrorism, responsible for developing and implementing America’s global policies to combat terrorism. He served as adviser to the President and the Secretary of State for three years.
A Yale graduate, Bremer joined the diplomatic service in 1966 and his overseas assignments included stints in Afghanistan, Malawi, Norway and the Netherlands.
In Washington, he served as special assistant or executive assistant to six Secretaries of State.
Bremer’s experience as a diplomat and with the State Department should make him an ideal choice but given the complexities of the situation on the ground, it may take months before any form of transition government comprising Iraqis can take shape.
A FRIEND was in a Chinese restaurant in Flushing, Queens, when a customer sitting nearby started to cough.
A Caucasian man a few tables away walked over to the woman and shouted: “Please cover your mouth when you cough.”
“Things like this never happened before. It’s the SARS scare that is making people edgy,” she said.
Although New York has only two confirmed cases – none in Flushing or New York’s Chinatown – business and lives have been affected.
According to a recent statement from the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, rumours of SARS-related deaths, infected restaurant employees and other misplaced fears had plagued the Chinese community, spreading much more quickly and proving more damaging to local tourism and businesses than the virus itself.
It said that as a cultural institution that depends on visits as a source of revenue, it also felt the effects of the rumours, whereby school groups cite SARS as a reason for cancelling their visits.
The museum said the scare was yet another blow to a neighbourhood already suffering from the aftermath of Sept 11, diminished tourism and recession.
“According to the New York City Department of Health, not a single case of SARS has been reported in Chinatown,” it stressed.
Johan Fernandez is Editor, North America Bureau, based in New York (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )
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