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Iraq on Tuesday marked the first anniversary since the military coalition led by U.S. forces transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi provisional government. During this period, a free election was held in January and a transitional government headed by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari made its debut in April with the goal of establishing a full-fledged, democratic and independent government by the end of this year.

The situation in Iraq, however, is far from stable. On the anniversary itself, an Iraqi Shiite deputy leader, Dhari Ali al-Fayadh, his son and three bodyguards were killed in a bomb blast in Baghdad. The day before at least 10 people reportedly died and about 30 others were wounded. More than 1,000 people, mostly Iraqis, have been killed — mainly in suicide bombings — since the new government was installed in April.

Since the establishment of the transitional government, attacks and acts of terrorism by armed insurgents have been intensifying. Clean-up operations by U.S. and other coalition forces have failed to reduce the violence. It is believed that the armed insurgents intend to fan religious and ethnic conflicts with the aim of starting a civil war.

One factor behind the attacks is the enmity held by Sunnis and others against the U.S. occupation forces. This sad reality attests to the fact that the use of military strength to break the cycle of violence has its limits.

Against this backdrop of bloody turmoil, an international conference on the reconstruction of Iraq was held last week in Brussels. There, more than 80 participating countries and organizations pledged their full support for the political process based on United Nations resolutions. To put the political process firmly on track, the international community must create an environment that facilitates the restoration of public order and the stabilization of daily life. This should include setting a schedule for the withdrawal of the multinational force.

At the international conference Iraq promised to complete the political process, including the drafting of a new constitution, by Aug. 15, and to establish a constitutionally elected government by the end of the year. The meeting was cosponsored by the European Union and the United States, which have long held conflicting opinions on the Iraq war. Such cooperation has helped to establish a course that the international community should follow to promote a unified approach toward the settlement of the Iraqi issue.

In Brussels, essentially, the international community only went as far as to declare its determination. The next question will be how the international community is going to give practical effect to its commitments. Specific measures of international assistance will be discussed at a meeting to be held in Jordan next month.

To draw in the Sunni faction, which boycotted the National Assembly election, the Iraqi transitional government has greatly increased the Sunni presence on the constitution drafting committee. This is a positive step toward national reconciliation. Concerning the content of the constitution, some Middle Eastern countries and others have expressed concern that certain members of the Shiite faction, which controls the government, are stating that Islam must form the basis of all laws. Conflicts between political forces, religious groups and ethnic groups continue over such issues as the adoption of a federal system as well.

What is most important is that the Iraqi people themselves take a leading role in choosing the system and that a new democratic state be constructed on the basis of a national consensus. A political system must not be forced on the Iraqi people by outsiders. But the creation of a social and political environment conducive to such a development requires the stabilization of Iraq’s security situation.

Well aware of these facts, leaders of those countries deeply involved in the Iraqi quagmire, especially U.S. officials, have dropped hints regarding the establishment of a viable timetable for troop withdrawals. An especially important message has come from Mr. al-Jaafari, who reportedly said two years will be “enough” to establish security in his country. He qualified this statement, though, by saying it depended on several key factors, including the development of Iraq’s own security forces, the cooperation of neighbors on border security and the development of the political process.

Surely the time has come to jointly step up efforts to help the Iraqi government acquire such capabilities, which will in turn make it possible to set a schedule for troop withdrawals.

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