The Blog

How to Win Iraq's Hearts and Minds

Some ideas for how to rebuild Iraq.

12:00 AM, May 5, 2003 • By JAMES ABRAHAMSON, MANSOOR IJAZ and NABIL BARAKAT
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

WITH THE MAGNIFICENCE of a backdrop that only an American aircraft carrier could offer, President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln last week. But America's deft military campaign to liberate Iraq will not be considered complete or just in the Arab world without implementing an equally well-planned strategy and campaign to win the peace.

The blueprint for winning the peace will revolve around bringing to life a federalist constitution that devolves power to Iraq's ethnically and religiously diverse people, insuring a system of justice that can equitably apply the rule of law to all its citizens, structuring a free-market economic system that encourages merit and uses Iraq's oil resources for the good of the people, and redefining the role of religion in society so it becomes a force for moral healing and unity rather than sowing the seeds of hatred, violence, and division.

American ideas for solving these problems will get the best reception from Iraq's people if there is a concurrent campaign waged to win over their hearts and minds. After being ruled by hardened Baathist heads for the past three decades, transforming Iraqi hearts into a democratic force for reform throughout the Arab world will require a combination of compassion, political skill, and a willingness to spend U.S. taxpayer money on things other than the latest cruise missiles, fighter jets, or armored tanks.

We need a common-sense approach that focuses on the needs of Iraq's people and empowers them to leave the era of Saddam's tyranny behind. Consider how the following illustrative, though by no means exhaustive, steps might transform U.S. efforts to develop post-Saddam Iraq in a manner that reflects the intentions and spirit of the American people.

America's Big Sister City Development Program

PRESIDENT BUSH should call on the mayors of a representative list of major cities across the United States to each adopt one Iraqi city, town, or village in order to help restore the public school systems, hospitals, and pharmacies that provide critical services to ordinary Iraqi citizens.

In a country the size of California, it should not be difficult to gather and infuse enough private American money and brainpower to put books, pencils, paper, and maybe even a few willing and adventurous American school teachers into Iraqi classrooms in order to get the Iraqi children--who went back to school this weekend--back to the earnest business of learning.

Sister city mayors could commission fundraising drives to buy hospital supplies, or offer rotating missions of doctors and nurses to staff and retrain Iraqi doctors and health-care personnel so that ordinary Iraqis see and feel the benefits of the better way of life proposed by their liberators.

Pharmacies in American cities could restock Iraqi pharmacies and other medical supply outlets--and get a big tax break for doing so.

Gone would be accusations that Iraq's post-Saddam development is the stepchild of Pentagon war planners or that the American people are indifferent to the fate of ordinary Iraqis. Bechtel wouldn't be the only American enterprise called in to rebuild Iraq. The American people would add their considerable weight to the effort.

Even those who vehemently opposed the war in the U.S. would have a chance to help win the peace.

Iraqi Public Works Program

THE GREATEST SINGLE THREAT to peace in a post-Saddam Iraq is extremist Shiite Islam taking over streets full of unemployed people who have nothing better to do than scream virulent epithets at America while inciting violence in otherwise normal neighborhoods. So let's get the people of Iraq back to work now.

General Jay Garner (U.S. Army, Ret.), the interim Iraqi administrator, should ask all Iraqi citizens to return to work under a public works program designed to clean up the mess left by fleeing Baathists and U.S. smart bombs. The first objective should be the revival of all main government ministries within 30 days.

One of the strongest criticisms heard on the Arab street today is that only the Ministry of Petroleum was protected by U.S. troops in the days after Baghdad fell, furthering suspicions that the war was about oil all along. Coalition troops should be asked to stand guard at each ministry where ordinary Iraqis return to work to offer a secure workplace environment.

Salary payments, at least initially, could come from the nearly $800 million in looted cash recovered from Saddam's hideaways, and could be made on a weekly basis in U.S. dollars while Iraq's monetary system is revamped for startup in 2004.