Beleaguered Baghdad

Defeating Iraq, a third-rate power with no air force, was the easy part. Creating peace in that benighted country is proving to be much more difficult.

This week, a month after the fall of Baghdad, chaos and anarchy reign in the city. Looters are in control, and now they’re attacking such international aid groups as CARE, raiding their warehouses and hijacking their trucks.

The American forces, which did such a bang-up job of fighting, have been largely impotent when it comes to creating order. The officials in charge, holed up in Saddam’s Republican Palace, have been nearly invisible to the city’s beleaguered residents.

This week, the Bush administration sent a whole new administrative team to Baghdad. Its job: make the city and country safe for its residents. It faces a daunting task: Baghdad’s police force is in tatters, most of its vehicles have been destroyed, and the country does not have a functioning judicial system.

International law requires an occupying power to create order and stability in the nation it controls. The Bush administration doesn’t want the United States to be perceived as an occupier, but it really has little choice in the matter. It must secure the peace, or its little war will have been for naught.

Meanwhile, leaders of the country’s majority religious group, the Shi’ites, are flexing their muscles. The return from exile this week of Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution and head of his own 15,000-man army, to a massive outpouring of support showed just how difficult it will be to create a Western-style democracy in Iraq.

Before the war, the president likened the prospect of a liberated Iraq to Japan and Germany after World War II: countries America was able to bring back to stability and prosperity with relative ease. Others worried that it would be more like Yugoslavia, a bitterly divided, violence-prone nation inherently averse to Western values. Increasingly, it looks as if they were right.