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What lessons postwar Germany holds for Iraq

Bush aides see parallels, urging patience, but others note a difference: more fighting.

At the end of the war, the conquered nation was ruined. Power was sporadic, much water undrinkable. A once-vital economy was moribund, while in the shadows enemies of the US occupation still lurked.

Does that sound like Iraq? Such was the situation in Germany in 1945. Increasingly, administration officials are drawing parallels between the two situations, saying that the successful rebuilding of a former Axis foe also began amid chaos and recriminations.

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Historians and experts say the situations are similar in several ways, and lessons can be drawn from the earlier experience of rebuilding West Germany. But there are also distinct differences.

Most important, the level of violence in Iraq is far higher.

"Fixing both countries was very important for US interests; both were likely to be long, difficult, and expensive jobs, and the physical conditions of the infrastructure in both countries was bad," says Francis Bator, professor of political economy at Harvard University.

"But the biggest difference," he adds, "is that Germany in 1945 was fully defeated. There was no internal enemy left."

There is almost a daily reminder that there is in fact an enemy left in Iraq.

Tuesday, a car bomb exploded outside police headquarters in Baghdad, killing at least one and wounding some 20 others. At the same time, a funeral was held for the top Shiite leader, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir al-Hakim, who was killed Friday in a suicide car bombing outside a mosque, along with 80 others. Many Iraqis charge that the US is not providing adequate security.

The situation for US soldiers is fraught with peril. As of Tuesday, some 286 US soldiers have died in Iraq, 148 since the president declared the end of major hostilities on May 1. Another 1,125 or so have been injured; some 575 since May 1.

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Looking to past examples

But administration officials - from the president to his advisers - have begun pointing to the parallels between Iraq and Germany. "There is an understandable tendency to look back on America's experience in postwar Germany and see only the successes," National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention Aug. 25.

"The road we traveled was very difficult.... Germany was not immediately stable or prosperous. SS officers - called Werewolves - engaged in sabotage and attacked both coalition forces and those locals cooperating with them, much like today's Baathist and Feda-yeen remnants."

That's only partly true, according to historians. True, they say, the similarity between the two examples are the challenges in each case. Germany was laid flat by long-term bombing and land campaigns; Iraq's infrastructure was destroyed mainly because of Saddam Hussein's neglect. Massive infusions of cash will be needed in Iraq, just as they were in the Europe.

Reconstruction time again

Moreover, rebuilding Germany was a long, difficult, and expensive process. It was four years after the war that the Federal Republic of Germany was created. Similarly, although the process of building democratic institutions has begun in Iraq - with the creation of the Iraqi Governing Council and the naming of its cabinet Tuesday - it's likely to be years before the US is able to turn over full responsibility for governing to Iraqis.

"It took several years to construct those democratic systems in Germany," says Robert Pfaltzgraf, an expert on international security at Tufts University's Fletcher School. "We even used the term de-Nazification as we use the term de-Baathification today," referring to the processes of removing Nazi officials from positions of power in Germany and Baath Party officials in Iraq.

Iraq's violent opposition

But the analogy ends there. In Germany, there weren't terrorists crossing borders to fight the US. And internal opposition was nearly nonexistent.

In "Total War," Peter Calvocoressi writes that the werewolves were created in 1944, as a "last resort under Himmler's command." But the only death credited them is that of the mayor of Aachen, on March 25, 1945, before the Nazis surrendered on May 7 that same year.

"I couldn't find any mention in the US Army's official history of the German occupation of any American combat deaths," says Daniel Benjamin, coauthor of "The Age of Sacred Terror." "I think all the respected histories agree on this point - the occupation's problems had nothing to do with resistance."