An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 18 November 2003

Six months after US troops tore down the statue of Saddam Hussein in central Baghdad, a sight repeatedly shown on TV across the world as being trampled by cheering Iraqis, another has replaced it, a nameless figure embodying the ghosts of Saddam, Osama-bin-Ladin and Mohammed Omar. That victorious act was supposed to symbolize a new dawn, a new Iraq but neither are anywhere in sight and Iraqis are still waiting to see the benefits of the US-led occupation. 

Americans thought they had won the second Iraq war decisively in one week, but Saddam's murdering class and his imported terrorists chose to run and fight from underground. They are now six months into Iraq War III with the ground situation becoming more and more adverse every passing day. The rocket attack on the al-Rashid Hotel, where the Americans who run Baghdad live, the rash of suicide attacks/bombings of the Red Cross, Iraqi police stations, British troops and Italian military police compound near Basra, Polish troops in North and bringing down of three US helicopters in that many weeks are not the desperate acts of desperate men, as President Bush declared.

They are signs of an enemy, which the Bush administration had underestimated from the start, and which is getting better at what it does. The renegade Saddam Hussein loyalists and the foreign Jehadis are becoming more efficient, more creative and more effective at killing Americans and anyone who dares to enlist on the side of the occupying forces. No wonder the UN and Red Cross staff in Baghdad had left and Turkey and Japan have changed their mind about sending troops there to help the Americans.

That the US policy and efforts in post 01 May Iraq are in a shambles became evident by the abrupt recall of America's top administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, for urgent White House consultations –– signalling a new level of alarm among the policy makers? The White House’s recent policy shift from the embarrassing unconventional weapons (WMD) issue, to the lofty vision of creating an exemplary democracy in Iraq, is also under a second look. The change now is for a speedy transfer of authority to a sovereign Iraqi government, even if that means scrapping the previous requirement that Iraqis first draft and approve a new constitution –– something that France and Germany had pressed for in the UN before reluctantly voting for the US resolution.

The decision to bring in the newly raised Iraqi Army, paramilitary and police for keeping law and order was taken last month and some headway was made in this direction. But the major question is –– are the Iraqis with the present politico-military and economic state of affairs, in a position to take over this daunting task? To those watching the developments there, it does not provide any sense of assurance. 

The very thought that like post World War II Japan or Germany, a western style democracy could be transposed in Iraq was a non-starter, as there was neither any local aspiration nor understanding for such a system of governance. In fact, no Islamic state in the heartland of Mohammed’s fundamentalist followers spread from East of Mediterranean to Pakistan has shown any use for democracy. Such a credo is just not there with their thoughts and actions still steeped in the Shariat and other tribal prescriptions for social and political organisation. On top of all this, Saddam with his Baathist apparatus had eliminated any possibility of designs for a political change. 

Thus the concept of democracy remains only amongst the exiles like Mr Chalabi who have no takers among the Iraqi masses of all hues. The only individuals who do command some influence are the religious Mullahs or tribal heads. It would take the US a generation i.e. at least 20 years of occupation to sow the seeds and nurse the plant of democratic practices, before such a system can take roots in the sands of Iraq. They have neither that much time nor patience or possibility for this course of action. 

The signs of US frustration are strengthened by such doubts. Its hand-picked members of the Interim Governing Council have spent more time on their own political or economic interests than in planning for Iraq's political future, especially the immediate task of writing a new constitution. The Council as a body failed to effectively communicate with the Iraqi public or gain greater legitimacy. Even after appointing 25 cabinet ministers in late August, the Council had neither done ‘anything of substance’, nor thrown up any worthwhile figure to take over the mantle of leading an indigenous government.

In contrast, the opponents –– call them Jehadists, Terrorists or Baathists –– had made their aim amply clear –– to increase suffering by driving out the UN and Red Cross relief workers and to assassinate Iraqi leaders and police who dare to cooperate with the occupying forces. Their third and key goal is to kill enough Americans to cause US public opinion to lose heart. With the mounting anti-American tide of violence, a hurried step by Washington at this stage to create a ramshackle apparatus for governance may lead to a break-up of Iraq itself.

Shiites in the south in order to resist a return of repression by Saddam's Sunnis may set up a nation under the protection of Iran. Kurds in the north, fearing the return of Saddamism, would try to break away into an independent Kurdistan. This would induce Turkey, worried about separatism among its own Kurds, to seize the Iraqi oil fields of Kirkuk. This splitting apart would only lead to the emergence of a fiercely nationalist new face of Iraq in what is now termed the “Sunni Triangle”; making Baghdad yet another hub of terrorism more violent than the Palestinian counterpart.

The grim truth is that there are no very attractive options in Iraq. A much better and possibly feasible way to manage, would be to transfer political authority to a newly created United Nations administration. Constitutional development and election supervision are areas where the UN has built-in legitimacy and experience. Creating a UN administration for Iraq could also help attract more international peacekeeping troops to relieve America's overstrained forces. In view of rising tide of disillusionment of American people and approaching presidential elections, the Bush administration would clearly love to be able to remove American troops from the line of fire. Yet a rushed American withdrawal without an orderly handoff to the UN would leave Iraq open to just the kind of misgovernment and terrorism that the White House waged this war to prevent.

Both the political transition and the security situation would be easier to manage if the United States forged a full partnership with allies and the United Nations, which could help organise, oversee and validate a transfer of sovereignty. With such a process in place, it might be possible to recruit the fresh foreign troops that the administration has been unable to find.

In theory, a multilateral consensus should be easier to forge now than it was several months ago. The new openness to an early handover of power brings it closer to the position desired by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, as well as estranged allies such as France and Germany. Another crucial and helpful step would be to bring the ‘road map’ back on course in Israel (West Asia) for giving Palestinians a fair deal and restoring peace. This would refurbish the US image and reduce the universal animosity for America in Muslims all over the world, but more acutely in the Arab lands.

The sole aim should be to produce a reasonably decent and constitutionally grounded Iraqi government. If Iraq turns into a quagmire, it will be a disaster for US interests all around the world.


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