The Magazine

Reinventing Iraq

The Trieste model.

Dec 9, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 13 • By AUSTIN BAY
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Fear, loathing, and lack of money will be the enemies in a post-Saddam Iraq. There will probably be a "honeymoon" period, as Iraqis of all ethnic and religious groups rejoice in their liberation. An allied transition government must be ready to take full advantage of it. Again, the Trieste precedents are suggestive.

The Bush administration's plan to prepare 3,000 to 5,000 Iraqi troops to help maintain order after liberation is in line with the Trieste experience of putting local security forces on the ground. Rebuilding Iraq's damaged infrastructure, including oil facilities, should be seen as an opportunity to provide the Iraqi people with jobs and point them toward a better, more productive future. The Trieste AMG faced a monetary crisis with political undercurrents. Slovenes rejected the lira. To avoid such conflicts, we will probably want to dollarize the Iraqi economy. That's the currency already preferred by Kurds and Shiites, anyway.

RESOLVING "the Trieste question" in the context of the Cold War eventually led to the partitioning of the Istrian peninsula between Italy and Tito's Yugoslavia--an uncomfortable augur given Iraq's internal divisions. Turkey rejects a separate Kurd state. Bahrain and Kuwait are not interested in seeing a separate Shiite state solidify around Basra.

Identifying and airing issues like these argues for the establishment as soon as possible of a national council in exile--a broad coalition that affirms the territorial integrity of post-Saddam Iraq. The idea isn't to create a provisional Iraqi government, but to provide a forum for debating how to build a new one. Critics who say such advance planning gives certain exile groups a head start have a point. However, rebel Iraqi generals, with guns on the ground, will also have a "head start," much as Trieste's Slovene partisans did. A national council, a not-quite-government, becomes a platform for negotiating before rather than after power-grabs.

It will also help Tommy Franks prepare to deliver the mail. Post-Saddam Iraq is sure to be a tough route for any postman.

Austin Bay is an author and syndicated columnist. His novel "The Wrong Side of Brightness" will be published in the spring by Putnam/Berkley Books.