Governing Iraq.
By M. H. Ansari

The Americans and the British are being accused of lack of planning and incapacity in attending to the basic needs of the public.

A U.S. Army sergeant on duty at a police station in Baghdad tells a journalist, "We have no business being here". He says life is miserable, hot meals, air-conditioning and decent bathrooms are not available and that it is difficult to keep morale high: "We need to get out of here". His counterpart in the Iraqi police considers the Americans arrogant and attributes their loss of public trust to this arrogance.

Two perceptions of a situation in the complex landscape called occupied Iraq. The Americans and the British are being accused of lack of planning and incapacity in attending to the basic needs of the public. Insensitive, heavy-handed tactics in house-to-house search operations, including the use of dogs, has inflamed sentiments among the conservative sections of the population.

The hothouse plants nurtured by America as future rulers of Iraq have already been discarded. Ahmad Chalabi is a disillusioned man and his `Free Iraq' force, trained by the U.S. Army, has been disbanded. The first U.S. administrator in Iraq, General Jay Garner, was replaced. His successor, Ambassador Paul Bremer, has announced his intention of staying in Iraq for two years and intends to handpick a team of Iraqi counselors to assist in administering and in drafting a new constitution under which elections would be held. The impression is that he wants to delay elections to sideline the religious parties. This move has been opposed by Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the ranking Shia divine in Najaf and until now considered apolitical. In a fatwa issued last week, the Ayatollah decreed that the move to appoint counselors is contrary to Islamic law. He has instead suggested that elections be held so that elected representatives can undertake the drafting of the Constitution on which a public referendum can be held. The tussle, in other words, is between American-appointed interim rulers and elected ones. This will not make the position of the occupying authority any easier.

The situation in the Kurdish region is complicated. The two main Kurdish parties cooperated with the Americans against Saddam Hussein. Now they want to cooperate with any new central government on their own terms and do not want to surrender their arms. Turkey is watching the situation closely. Any new government in Iraq - appointed or elected - would thus need to walk a fine line between central control of the Kurdish areas and regional autonomy. Too much control would revive Kurdish resentment and too much autonomy would upset Turkey. The real problem is in central and southern Iraq where armed attacks on the alliance forces have compelled Mr. Bremer to ask for 50,000 additional troops (bringing the total to two lakhs [200,000]) and announce substantial cash awards for information on Saddam Hussein and his two sons. The attacks on American and British soldiers, and on economic targets, will keep the level of military alert high and that of reconstruction activity low. In such a situation, the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqis would be difficult to win. It is 1920 all over again with the Americans taking the place of the British.

Although the U.S. President, George W. Bush, continues to talk aggressively, alarm bells have started ringing in Washington. The question, "who misled the President," is being whispered among those whose responsibility is to ensure that Mr. Bush is re-elected next year and for which a dramatic and decisive victory in Iraq was considered so essential.

What went wrong? The war exercise was a litany of misleading statements and miscalculations. Some of these include: Misinforming the world about the real reason for going to war; miscalculating the reaction of the United Nations Security Council; misjudging Turkey's reaction; failure to decapitate the Iraqi leadership or capture most of its important members; misjudging the calibre and the following of the Iraqi dissident groups in exile; failure to plan for the post-war period; to anticipate that the power vacuum would be filled by Islamist groups; to appreciate the implications of bypassing the Security Council peacekeeping operations, a direct result of which is the unwillingness of many countries to participate in them; unwillingness to appoint an interim Iraqi administration immediately after the war, and install a democratically elected government at the earliest; failure to establish a rapport with the Shia religious leaders; and, above all, failure to communicate with the Iraqi people and understand the public mood.

An American academic, who knows the region well, has written that conditions in Iraq are desperate and trouble is coming from almost every quarter of the population. The observation of the Army sergeant is therefore understandable. Nor is his Iraqi counterpart wrong.

[Source: The Hindu, 9Jul03. The writer is a former Permanent Representative of India at the United Nations.]

War in Iraq and Glabal State of exception

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This document has been published on 09ago03 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights, in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.