Taking Back The Streets

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CHALLENGE: Iraq’s homegrown police are vital to achieving security, but they are undertrained and unequipped

Tough talk is cheap in Baghdad. But if the new interim government in Iraq is going to prevail in what Prime Minister Iyad Allawi vows will be a "showdown" with the insurgency ravaging the country, it will need to put serious muscle behind the bluster. That's where General Mohammed Abdullah al-Shahwani, the recently named boss of the newly formed Iraqi Intelligence Service, comes in. As Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh says of him, "Terrorism is fought best with intelligence."

And violence. The burly, cigar-smoking al-Shahwani has been in the war business most of his adult life and in the spy game for more than a decade. That's one reason he was chosen for the job: he provides the hard edge the fledgling government needs to combat elusive but ruthless enemies who seem only to get stronger. If they opt for mayhem, blood and death, then al-Shahwani is more than ready to trade fire with them. "We know how to play that game," he says. He also knows the cost of playing it: Saddam killed his three sons a decade ago after uncovering a coup that al-Shahwani was helping to plot.

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Iraqis are desperate for an end to the car bombs, gun battles, kidnappings and assassinations that make life in Iraq a fearful hell. Winning "that game" is Job One for Iraq's leaders. The very way the new government took power underscores the need. In a brief, stealthy ceremony improvised two days early to thwart feared attacks timed for the official date of June 30, U.S. proconsul L. Paul Bremer handed a blue folder to Prime Minister Allawi and with it sovereign responsibility for restoring Iraq to normality. Within an hour, Bremer was gone, his quick departure emblematic of Washington's exhausted efforts to birth a model nation.

Now the Bush Administration is betting that putting Iraqis in charge of their own country will take the steam out of the armed resistance. And in Allawi they hope they have found a man tough enough to back up his inaugural words: "I say that we will hunt them down to give them their just punishment." But many Iraqis regard this second appointed regime as just another set of American puppets. "Nothing has changed," says Harith al-Dhari, head of the Association of Muslim Scholars and a Sunni sheik who some U.S. officials say is linked to insurgents. "This is a government created by the U.S. that cannot exist without the U.S. They cannot make any difference." The only solution, he says, "is to get rid of the Americans." There are currently 138,000 U.S. troops and some 20,000 Americans working on private contracts.

Even Iraqi optimists know that their leaders face an uncommonly steep challenge. Too many citizens still have no jobs, electricity is erratic, and the water is filthy. And no nation can call itself sovereign if it cannot protect its people from terrorism and crime. The interim government is heavily dependent on U.S. soldiers for security and on U.S. dollars for reconstruction. As the restructured Iraqi National Guard began appearing on Iraqi streets, insurgents attacked a unit south of Baghdad, killing six and wounding five.

As a nonelected government of unknowns and former exiles, the new men come to power with shaky authority at best. So it was perhaps fitting that they spent most of their first week trading in symbols. Putting Saddam Hussein in the dock was a dramatic way to show that the new bosses mean business, a potent reminder of the tyranny Iraqis have escaped. But the insurgents delivered a few signals of their own: on the night of the hand-off, the group holding Army Specialist Keith Maupin since April said he had been shot dead. And late in the week, rockets exploded near two Baghdad hotels housing foreigners, including many journalists. Amid all the chaos, here's how the new government hopes to turn things around:

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