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

Monday | July 07, 2003

What to do in Iraq

By Steve Gilliard

With the death of three more GI's and a British journalist within the last 24 hours, it is clear that some kind of resistance movement is afoot in Iraq and has moved from the Sunni heartland to Baghdad proper.

Let's look at the facts on the ground:

The Turks seek to undermine us in the north, as US forces work cautiously with Arab and Kurd groups in Mosul and Kirkuk. They desperately want a failed Kurdistan or at least one so politically unstable that the Kurds can never organize an independent or autonomous Kurdistan.

Saddam and his sons remain alive and elusive, whether in Iraq or abroad. While unlilkely to ever regain political power, without him in custody or dead, confidence in the CPA is unlikely.

Iraqis think our inability to transform their economy and society is no accident. That we are motivated only by greed and malice. When asked, most Iraqis want us to stabilize the situation before leaving.

The most powerful force in Iraq is a group of Shia clerics who remain indifferent to US occupation and oppose any form of US rule. They control militias and social services, yet remain silent as the US is attacked daily.

US force remain unable to bring any real security to a country of 26 million people and those who seek to help them face an attack by a shadowy resistance who is split between those who support Saddam and those who just want the Americans gone. The public seems to be of two minds, one where they hate Saddam, but will do little to help the US maintain order. Too often we do things which hurt our image with Iraqis or cause them real suffering

So what do we do?

First, we need to realize that we will be unable to provide security in Iraq. Until we can build an Iraqi Army of 100,000, not the 40,000 currently projected, Iraq will be essentially insecure. Iraq also clearly needs a police force of that size to patrol it's cities and borders. One that has to be built from the ground up and trained to perform a range of missions from local patrolling to paramilitary assaults. The US does not have and will not get the 300,000 men it needs for a successful occupation. With elements of seven of the 10 US Army divisions now committed to Iraq, there are no more men in the pipeline.

Second, all such talk of "having to finish the job," "Saddam broke it, we'll fix it" is nonsense. We are only in Iraq as long as the Shia clerics tolerate us. They will determine what job we do and when it is finished. Unless we can form a working relationship with them, and convince them to sign on to our agenda, we have no hope of success. Rebuilding Iraq hangs on making some kind of accomodation with them. We will not be in Iraq for five years. Or two. Until we admit our role is as caretaker until Iraq can form a government, no Iraqi will have any incentive to work with us. Doing so is collaboration and will get you killed. The idea that we can stay in Iraq without the consent of the Iraqi people is perncious and based in no small amount of racial contempt.

Third, we need to establish dates for an election and work towards that by conductiing a UN-monitored census, survey and finally election. Then use the ICC to establish the framework for a tribunal and reconciliation commission to deal with the Baathists and their crimes.

Fourth, bringing in the UN in an advisory role and phasing out the CPA would be a very smart move. The CPA is tainted by its links to Chrisitan fundamentalists and Jerry Bremer's imperious manner. He runs around like a viceroy and it's only a matter of time before he's targeted for a serious assassination attempt and his headquarters targeted by car bombs and mortars. Phasing out the occupation and asking someone of stature in the Arab world like former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali to take over would make far more sense. There are any number of Arab statemen and diplomats who could serve as the voice of a new administration run not by the US, but the UN.

Any US adminsitration, will, in the end, become ensnared in a guerrilla war. Iraqis have no history of accepting foreign occupation gracefully and if we attempt to establish one, they will eventually turn against it.

Arabic, not English, should be the first language of all statements about Iraq.

Fifth, finding native Iraqis, whether they are tied to the Shia clerics or Sunni tribes, to act as administrators is critical. Too much of what the US is doing is done in the dark. Training for Iraqi officials can be done in the Gulf and they would have to have the power to order Americans around. Without that, they are targets for assasination.

Sixth, remaking the Iraqi economy is a major mistake. Anything we do will reek of imperialism, especially messing with their oil industry. We can get it working, but after that, its up to Iraqis to determine what kind of economy they want. Talk of privatizing the oil industry is infuriating to Iraqis, who are not ignorant yokels, but perhaps the most educated people in the region besides the Palestinians. The same goes for their society. It may not be fair if women have to wear hejabs, but the Iraqi people have to work that out for themselves. We cannot reorder their society to sooth western liberal consciences.

Finally, as US forces withdraw, they would need to be replaced by a stabilization force from NATO and the Arab League. Iraq will need some kind of external military force until its army can be rebuilt. If a UN administration, headed by an Arab and working with Iraqi officials, can be established, the US can walk away. But as long as we try to run Iraq, we will do so at war.

Posted July 07, 2003 12:31 PM


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