Winning wars and winning hearts [Archives:2003/641/Viewpoint]

June 12 2003

Last edition's column on the essence of finding weapons of mass destruction to give some legitimacy the US war against Iraq infuriated so many responses from American readers who justified the war and added that the US and UK have won the war and hence will be responsible for building the new Iraq.
Well, I take this occasion to stress that winning wars is not winning hearts. The US may have succeeded in defeating the former Iraqi regime and winning the war, but it will require a lot of effort to win the hearts of Iraqis.
It is not impossible, but it would be quite difficult to win the hearts of Iraqis who continue to suffer two months after the war is over of many problems including lack of stability and security, and also lack of basic services such as communication, electricity, and water supply.
Nevertheless, even if they do get all those services, will the US-UK coalition win the hearts of Iraqis? That is in doubt. Basically, any invading power will probably not find a place in the hearts of the invaded nation even if they have all they need to live a decent life. The main reason is because they will be lacking their freedom. They will still be feeling captive and under invasion. Only when the invading forces win the people's hearts will they be true winners in this war. But winning the battle in the field is simply not enough.
What American and British forces should do now in order to heal the wounds is to show care and dedication to Iraqi citizens. They should work hard to receive the locals' trust and confidence. They should remember that Iraq belongs to the Iraqis and the Iraqis only, and any force that comes whether for 'liberation' or 'invasion' should be considerate of the feelings of citizens and not try to diminish their pride and dignity. What Iraqis are going through right now is not simple. There is a transformation process from a dictatorship to an unknown system with no clear marks or boundaries. They have suffered bombings, deaths, injuries in a war that followed decades of oppressiveness and constraints. They are not certain of the future. They do not know what tomorrow holds for them and their families.
Now is the right time to win Iraqis' hearts, and that is a difficult task as long as the coalition forces continue to focus on their interests and give lesser priority to what Iraqis need.