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July, 2003

Quagmire Between Two Rivers
By Tim Llewellyn

SPECIAL TO THE COASTAL POST
?? Nearly two months after American forces, with British support, conquered Iraq and toppled the Saddam Hussein regime, life under occupation remains dangerous and demeaning for most Iraqis. Disease, hunger and civil strife threaten to make matters worse before they get better. "Liberty" if that is what it is, has not brought with it any glimpse of stability, let alone the pursuit of happiness. The Iraqis survive, as they had been surviving, just about, since the last great Western intervention of 1991, without prospects for the future. That is about it.?
?? The "Authority"- the United States and its junior UK partner-that the United Nations Security Council has appointed to run Iraq indefinitely, thus legitimizing the occupation an unauthorized war made possible, has failed to stop killing and looting or restore power, water, sewage and communication. The health system, already depleted by 12 years of sanctions and war, remains shattered-the insides of hospitals and clinics nightmarish scenes of pain and despair. For Iraqis, anarchy has replaced the combination of? Saddam Hussein's oppression and the depredations of Western-imposed sanctions.?
?? The lean American machine that devastated Saddam's army had speed and muscle but not enough of or the right kind of troops for running an effective occupation. It cannot carry out its responsibilities towards the people it now controls. The generals who took charge of Iraq either had no plan or too many plans; there has already been, before the firing has properly stopped, a change of American pro-consul, a civilian "terrorist expert" replacing a retired warrior. The different elements of the American Administration, the Pentagon, the CIA, the State Department, are locked into an internecine struggle in which the Pentagon prevails-a war office driven by a neo-conservative elite that sees the American Way as the Only Way.
?? As the senior American Senator Robert Byrd put it recently: "True, we have unseated a brutal, despicable despot, but 'liberation' implies the follow-up of freedom, self-determination and a better life for the common people. In fact, if the situation in Iraq is the result of liberation, we may have set the cause of freedom back 200 years."
?? The horrors in Iraq make news, on the inside pages and well down TV bulletins. But our politicians and media still concentrate on the evils of Saddam rather than on present chaos and future solutions. This continued? denomination extends to holding Saddam responsible for the United Nations-imposed sanctions, the sad modern history of the depleted Arab Marshes, which goes back more than 50 years to irrigation schemes of British progeny, and for his brutal suppression of the uprisings of 1991-true and terrible, but an enterprise which the West enabled.?
?? It is the near-future that causes concern: the seeming impossibility of finding strong, central, acceptable governance with significant Iraqi content.?
?? Given the vacuum at the centre, other forces are taking the initiative. To the south of the capital, between the Euphrates and the Tigris, in the large cities between Baghdad and the Kuwait border, three main streams of rival Muslim Shi段tes have emerged, with money, arms and influence ( the Shi段tes forming the 60 percent majority of Iraqis ): One, led by Muqtada al-Sadr, son of an Ayatollah murdered by Saddam's men in 1999, is powerful in the most holy Shi段te city of Najaf. His ally, in his twenties, Sheikh Mohammed Fatousi, runs the vast former Saddam City-now "Sadr" city, home of a million Shi段tes-in greater Baghdad; the Supreme Council for an Islamic Revolution in Iraq, led by Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr al-Hakim, recently returned from exile in Tehran to a hero's welcome, is also building his ground base, helped by his own militia and a seat on the Iraqi National Congress, America's tentative, fractious starter for an Iraqi interim ruling council.
?? These two groups, to a considerable extent, are backed, financed and manipulated by the conservative, clerical establishment in Iran.
?? A third Shi段te group, also building support, is al Da蜘a (The Call),? which has survived Saddam underground inside Iraq and is apparently freer of Iranian influence. There is at least one other, senior ayatollah in Najaf, who is influential. Yet another ayatollah, returning from exile in Britain, a much-respected man, was murdered within days of his return.?
?? The problem for the Americans, obsessed though they are with the idea of Iranian infiltration, is that these groups-and many smaller ones, tribal, secular, religious-are wealthy and are consolidating the loyalty of their people, never mind their various ideologies. The factions' leaders command tithes or taxes, in return for which they supply an organized system of security, financial support, a degree of social welfare and medical help, and guns and employment. This is the Middle Eastern way when the centre neither rules nor provides.??
?? The more this trend entrenches itself the harder it will be for the Authority to build a national ruling council of Iraqis representing all backgrounds and tendencies, even some independents, each council member of equal weight, winning universal respect and obedience. Just to write those last words gives one pause. The occupiers will have to find a leader who can personify Iraq,? and lead his people, without being reviled or ignored as an American stooge. A trap is wired at every step.
?? And these newly emerged regional power-bases are disparate: it is not and never was a simple case of Shi段te South and Sunni Middle, each some neatly-to-be devolved region. The Kurds do have their own administered, ethnic region as a result of Western protection since 1991, which is cozy for the Kurds, up to a point. But it may complicate federal reform of Iraq, if that is what there is to be. ( It would be nice, by now, to know.) It is already becoming evident that some-if not all-the emerging Shi段te parties want an Islamic form of government in a state that has hitherto been avowedly secular and contains small but significant Christian minorities and a non-religious core in the skilled and middle classes.
?? Remaking Iraq cannot begin until there is safe, sustainable life across the country. Somehow, a tranche of efficient and dedicated members of Iraqi civil society, lawyers, police, doctors, engineers, scientists, administrators, academics, traders and journalists-and this did exist-has to be reconstituted, very soon. Law and order has to be discernible before such people will emerge, and yet, paradoxically, it is unlikely to be so until they do come forward. There is little to tempt back the educated, skilled Iraqis who fled abroad during the past 20 years.
?? Much of the insecurity, shooting, robbery and looting, including the unforgivable and easily preventable ransacking of Iraq's ancient culture, history and identity from its museums, libraries and archaeological sites, is not only random greed and opportunism but fund-raising by political factions. This makes it harder to deal with.
?? To restore some pole of trust around which Iraqis of all factions, religions, ethnic groups and political tendencies could assemble, an enhanced and central role for the United Nations was vital. Perhaps this will happen, eventually, though the concept is glaringly missing from the latest Security Council resolution, which is stamped "Made in the USA." Failing this, the American occupying forces must behave with far more intelligence and subtlety than they have shown so far, and new peacekeeping troops from other, more disinterested nations be drafted in. The problem in George W. Bush's new world order is: just who can be disinterested??
?? Enormous mistrust of American intentions is growing. Iraqis see foreigners own and administer their oil and its proceeds, contracts for rebuilding handed to cronies of President Bush, a carelessness at root among American soldiers and administrators for ordinary Iraqis' life and lives, the constant and tangible distance kept between invader and citizen.?
?? If the Pentagon's strategists intend to "project" US military power across the Middle East, to guide reluctant states along the American Way, with Iraq as the model "pour encourager les autres," they must first enable the Iraqis to reassemble their nation into a whole one acceptable both to Washington and to the emergent young mullahs.?
?? Precedent in the region indicates that this will not be easy.

 

 

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