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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Sunday | April 06, 2003

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

While the US is still engaged in combat, the US will set up an occupation government in Iraq this week, according to the Observer and other news reports.

US begins the process of 'regime change'

Ed Vulliamy in New York and Kamal Ahmed
Sunday April 6, 2003
The Observer

The US is ready to install the first leg of an interim government for the new Iraq as early as Tuesday, even while fighting still rages in Baghdad, officials said yesterday.

America's readiness to establish the first stages of a civil administration to run post-war Iraq comes at lightning speed and constitutes a rebuff to European ambitions to stall on the process until some kind of role for the United Nations is agreed.

It was reported yesterday that the National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has also ruled out any key role for the UN.


Rumsfeld presented two memoranda to the White House last week, urging the President to begin setting up government institutions in areas under US control. He said the new organs could install Iraqis returning from exile under the tutelage of American civilians answerable to General Garner.

But his plan has been opposed even within the administration. Colin Powell is known to favour a military government established after victory is assured, prepared to nurture an Iraqi government centred around citizens resident in Iraq, rather than exiles sponsored by neo-conservatives in the Pentagon.

General Garner is already set to make his media debut in Kuwait tomorrow as the man whom the US has named to be Iraq's temporary post-war civilian administrator.

The US viceroy of the Southern region will be retired General Buck Walters; one of three governors slated to minister the new Iraqi provinces.

The others are General Bruce Moore in the largely Kurdish north and former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine based in Baghdad, governing the central region.

Ok, now think about this like a Shia cleric in Iran. The foolish Americans have announced their imposition of a colonial regime before the war is over. At least the British had the common decency to wait until they marched down the streets of Baghdad to make such a declaration. They didn't create a colonial government while they were getting beaten by the Turks.

What would your reaction be as a Shia cleric?

First, I think I would say to Garner that the UN has to be part of the process. The UN is trusted by Iraqis as the providers of the food for oil program as well as their health care system, such as it is. A unilateral US role would be unacceptable.

Second, any establishment of a government led by American-based exiles would be completely unacceptable. They have no role in a future Iraq, except in an Iraqi-led government.

Third, any dispoistion of the oil resources would have to be done in consultation with the Iraqi people. Any attempt to set up a system to sell oil would be contested.

Fourth, US forces should withdraw as quickly as possible after hostilities, including any civilian administrators.

Now why would an Iraqi Shia cleric demand these things? Well, they want to take power. They have been denied power for a very long time, and there is no way in hell that Jay Garner or Donald Rumsfeld is going to deny them control of much of Iraq.

The Shia clerics could see the imposition of an occupation government as a declaration of war. They suffered badly under Saddam, far worse than the Kurds. They have suffered under Sunni rulers for centuries. That clearly has to change. The US's naive, hamfisted plans are going to run into a stone wall.

If the occupiers don't get a quick deal with the clerics, because it is they, and not the Chalebis of Iraq, who have the power, the Shia would have every reason to send their people in the streets against the Americans.

While they clearly need Saddam gone from power, they certainly have no intention to exchange a Sunni dictatorship for an American viceroy. The Shia neutrality has been spun as a good thing for the US. I don't think it is. They are letting the US do their fighting, but in a way which will leave a power vacuum. The US hopes to fill it with US-friendly admnistrators. The Shia have plans to make that impossible.

For too long, the US has acted like Iraq is a blank slate. It isn't. Everyone has a card to play. And the US is funding the players with the weakest hands.

Steve Gilliard

Posted April 06, 2003 06:00 AM | Comments (77)


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