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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 June, 2003, 01:22 GMT 02:22 UK
Analysis: Iraq - eight weeks on

By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst

Eight weeks after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, the new US administrator Paul Bremer faces a daunting array of challenges.

US administrator Paul Bremer
Mr Bremer has taken an aggressive approach to restoring law and order
Iraqis are critical of the lack of security and basic services.

They also say the Americans are reneging on their promise to move quickly to share power with an interim Iraqi administration.

Mr Bremer has certainly brought his own style to the job.

Since arriving in Baghdad in May, he has given a new stamp of authority to the US-led administration.

Ironically perhaps, as a civilian and career diplomat, he is proving a tougher decision-maker than his predecessor, Jay Garner, a retired three-star general.

An additional cause of resentment is that Mr Bremer has felt obliged to backtrack on his predecessor's promise of a quick transition to an interim Iraqi authority

But wherever the new administrator looks, the prospects are discouraging.

On arrival, he announced a more aggressive approach to law and order.

There is now less looting and anarchy.

But efforts to persuade the residents of Baghdad to hand in heavy weapons have met with little success.

A fundamental problem is that 160,000 US and British troops are too few to police such a big country.

Periodic attacks against US forces continue - there were 85 in May alone, almost triple the number the previous month.

Iraqi resentment

Especially dangerous are the Sunni Muslim towns north and west of Baghdad.

Iraqis taunt US soldier in Falluja
Locals have accused US forces of heavy-handed tactics

This area prospered under Saddam Hussein's rule, and resentment of the American presence has been particularly strong there.

US forces have recently been reinforced in the town of Falluja, scene of frequent unrest and a string of attacks against American soldiers.

US military officers tend to blame such attacks on remnants of Saddam's forces. But in some cases the Americans' own behaviour has sparked off trouble.

Last month in the town of Samarra they shot dead four teenagers who had been firing into the air to celebrate a wedding.

In Iraq's clannish society, to avenge an attack is a matter of honour.

Few jobs, few services

Although oil production is being stepped up, this has not yet had much effect on the lives of long-suffering Iraqis.

An Iraqi policeman shoots into the air to disperse a crowd
Iraqis have been traumatised by post-war lawlessness

Economic recovery needs security on the streets and reliable supplies of electricity and water. These are still lacking.

Unemployment, already high, shot up further when Mr Bremer dissolved the 400,000-strong armed forces and the defence and information ministries.

Building a new army will take time and employ fewer people.

'Go slow'

An additional cause of resentment is that Mr Bremer has felt obliged to backtrack on his predecessor's promise of a quick transition to an interim Iraqi authority.

For the moment, the Americans (with the help of their British allies) are in the driving seat, and there is no clear timetable for a handover to Iraqi rule.

Iraqis with al-Samoud missile
The US-led coalition is still hunting for banned weapons

Mr Bremer has good reason to go slow.

A swift transition would favour the self-styled "leadership council" - a group of mainly Kurdish and Shia political parties who formed the main opposition to Saddam Hussein, mostly from exile in the West.

Now they have returned and set up offices in Baghdad and other cities, and consider they should be the nucleus of any new Iraqi Government.

But they are scarcely representative of all the diverse elements of Iraqi society.

Mr Bremer wants a bigger and better mix.

He is also wary of the influence of Iran on the country's majority Shia community, which since the fall of Saddam has experienced a dramatic revival.

'No easy options'

Jay Garner had proposed holding a big national conference in Baghdad - modelled on the Bonn conference which created the post-Taleban administration in Afghanistan.

Mr Bremer thinks it is too soon for such a conference.

He is proposing something much more modest - the creation of a political council of 25 to 30 Iraqis to work with the US-led administration and gradually take up posts in some of the revamped ministries.

The former opposition groups object that the council will be handpicked by the Americans and the British - and play a purely advisory role.

Mr Bremer has no easy options.

Moving fast might create a government which lacked credibility and proved unable to cope with the country's pressing problems.

To move more slowly, however, will play into the hands of those who argue that America's claim to be "liberating" Iraq is a fraud - and that its true aim is to control the country and its oil wealth.

It looks set to be a long, hot summer.

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