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Raising Iraq

Thomas Friedman's Op-Ed today in The New York Times meanders around the good news in Iraq and touches on some of the major issues left to accomplish. Fortunately he interviews a few experts who cut to the heart of the matter.

As the 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 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."

Bingo!!! It's not about us - eventually we will turn them loose - it's about (for lack of a better word) their own self-esteem.

Rebuilding a liberated country is akin to parenthood. Initially the parent is responsible for all of the care and feeding of the infant, just as the occupying nation must rebuild the captured country and provide for it's basic needs. As a child gets older they are increasingly willing to strike out on their own and take positions of their own, though they are not always in the best interest of the child. Parents have to walk a fine line between persuasion and authoritarian crack down (as is still their provenance with youngsters) to shape the child's decisions and keep them headed in the right direction, while allowing the child to mature in their decision making.

In the compressed timetables of the Iraqi reconstruction we have now entered the rebellious teenage years. Come January they will graduate from college (the interim government) and strike out on their own (with elections).

Just like parents we can only hope that we raised them well.

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