CHALLENGES LIE AHEAD AS TROOPS PULL BACK

April 10, 2003 11:00 pm

The war with Iraq is concluding, as Saddam Hussein — whether dead or alive — has been pushed out of the picture. But the battle for Iraq's development into a modern state, where a new ruler can forge an agenda of peace and prosperity and get along with his neighbors, has only begun.

President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair must address the challenges of bringing peace and stability to Iraq with as much determination as they did in pursuing the war against Saddam.

It was wonderful to see the giant statue of Saddam toppled on the streets of Baghdad Wednesday. The Bush administration and the U.S. military must be given much of the credit for the success in the three-week war.

Hopefully Saddam's chemical and biological weapons will be found soon so Bush and Blair can show the world that their intelligence reports were correct in justifying a war to remove Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction.

Many questions remain. What ruler or group will surface to provide the people of Iraq with the freedom and future they deserve? What nations will step up to provide humanitarian aid for Iraq? Will coalition nations be the only ones involved in building a stable Iraq? What role will the United Nations play in providing aid? The surrounding Arab nations, too, could have input on how Iraq's post-war government and society will look.

The United States and other nations must work closely with the Iraqi people in rebuilding Iraq and putting together a strong framework for peace. This work could take some time. But the sooner the new government is turned over to the Iraqi people the better.

Statue premature

It happened to Rick Raddatz on Wednesday. Raddatz of Colorado was watching the people in Baghdad tearing down a statue of their deposed dictator, Saddam Hussein.

"I was overcome with emotion as I watched the Iraqi people cheering in the streets," Raddatz said. "It should be finally clear to everyone that this war was not about oil or empires. This war was about liberty. ... "

Raddatz visualized a "Monument of Liberty for Iraq" being installed in the statue's place. The freedom statue, he said, could be a gift to the Iraqi people from Americans.

Raddatz's idea might be well and good. But it is premature. America's efforts in the immediate future should be on making sure Iraqis have the basics of life: food, clothing and a water supply, as examples.

Raddatz should wait several months before asking Americans to give money to his Iraq statue of liberty. There are more critical matters now that need attention.