Hard News by Russell Brown

The to-do list

The extraordinary lifting of tyranny in Baghdad this week has been compared, by the US leadership among others, to the fall of the exhausted communist regimes in Eastern Europe more than a decade ago. But, even in Romania, those peaceful revolutions left the civil infrastructure relatively intact.

In Iraq, where the dictator has been toppled by a foreign force, it looks like much of that infrastructure will have to be rebuilt from scratch. That is, and was always going to be, the risk of forcible liberation. Government ministries, the university in Basra, even a hospital in Baghdad, have been either destroyed or hollowed out by looters. It's not yet clear whether many of the people who made the trains run on time still have jobs.

The to-do list is long: and the top item must surely be policing - a role for which combat troops are simply not trained, and in which the old police force are unlikely to be accepted. Already the Financial Times is reporting on intimidation in Najaf from an Iraqi militia that claims US backing. Another anti-Saddam militia, several thousand strong, took control of the southeastern city of Amara on Sunday, and had to be threatened with bombing before it withdrew. A returning Shiite cleric was murdered by rivals in Najaf. The Turks are getting jumpy about the Kurds in Kirkuk.

Then there's the job of making sure the population - all 23 million of them - receives food and water in the absence of the old regime's networks. (The liberation of Iraq's oil wealth to pay for it is a matter for the UN Security Council, and thus the key bargaining chip for the France-Germany-Russia axis.) And at some point, the money - which bears Saddam's portrait - will surely have to be changed. A stopgap adoption of the greenback would, to put it mildly, risk misunderstanding in the Arab world.

Ahmed Chalabi has been airlifted into Iraq by one branch of the US government, but another one - the CIA - has leaked a classified report dismissing the ability of Perle and Cheney's favourite to credibly lead a new Iraq.

There's also the important job of tracking down Saddam's fortune - estimated at up to $US24 billion.

Suzanne Goldenberg reported the regime's day of destiny in Baghdad for the Guardian.

Meanwhile, it's either denial, anger or serious self-examination for the Arab world.

It's quite possible to rejoice in the relief of the Iraqi people but still deeply distrust the people who brought the freedom. Frankly, everyone should read this story (link courtesy of my lawyer) about a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies, based on recently-declassified diplomatic communications from the Reagan era which shed new light on exactly what Rummy and Cheney were doing in Iraq, and for whom, back then. Whatever your view of the war, you really do need to read this.