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

Wednesday | July 23, 2003

Beyond Saddam

By Steve Gilliard

Saddam and his sons have been a useful tool for the US. Having them on the run has made then valuable tools to blame the failures of the occupation on. "Baathist" is a nice term which really doesn't mean much, like bandit or terrorist. Killing them is a nice one day story, but does not return power or security to Iraqi cities. Which, in both the short and the long term, will be the ultimate defnition of a successful rebuilding effort.

The reality is that the average Iraqi still lives in conditions worse than when the war started and political organization is limited to nonexistant. The Governing Council doesn't have real power and can't even decide on a leader. As the CSIS report goes into great detail on, the basic lack of services, combined with an ongoing hostility towards the West, which is endemic in trans-Arab culture, not just Iraqi, makes any Western led reconstruction effort fraught with difficulties. Without wider support, we cannot expect the open cooperation of the Iraqi people. Fear of Saddam is far less of a factor than we may have come to believe.

A few Iraqis took the news in their stride, still more anxious about the present chaos rather than the fate of men who were considered to have lost power for good.

"It doesn't make any difference to me," one said. "It isn't important whether they have been killed or not. The main thing is the lack of security and electricity, and all these problems with infrastructure."

Saddam is past history in Iraq. Whether he is killed or tried or fades away, most of the problems facing the CPA will not go away. Among them are the folowing:

1 The Shia quest for power

The CPA is deperately trying to create some mechanism which will deny the Shia parties real power. Two raids on Al-Hakim's SCIRI offices have created real tension between the young former conscripts who follow various clerics, their political leaders and the Americans. Clearly, they are calling for elections they know they will win. The first thing they'll do is demand the Americans leave. There is no way a Shia government will tolerate a five year occupation. They have no ties to the West or any need for US support. It is far more important that Sadr can draw 100,000 men to a friday sermon than the discovery of Saddam, WMD or the daily guerrilla combat. Why? Because if the Shia feel that the CPA is designed to prevent them from taking power, they will turn on the US.

They are far from invested in the CPA. If they wanted to participate in it, they would have suggested young men join the police and supporting the new militia battalions. Instead, Sadr talks about forming his own Army while Al-Hakim talks about his own social services. They are not delivering them to the state or supporting the CPA with them, but creating their own powerbase.

2 Reestablishing the oil industry

Iraqi oil is sputtering and the CPA's plans for privitization are a minefield of trouble. Nationalization worked for Iraq and any attempt to alter that structure, much less have the CPA set the ground rules for new investment, is bound to cause real strife. Oil is a political, nationalistic issue with import every Iraqi, now waiting hours for gas in a country where it used to be cheap and easy to get, understand. Any plan by the CPA to get the oil industry running must meet with national consensus. Anything less is going to meet with real resistance from across the country.

3 American ideological issues hamper trust

Having American troops treat Iraqis like suspects is creating widespread support for the resistance. What I mean by this is very specific: an indifference to armed activity. It doesn't mean they want the Baathists to return, support Osama or any such thing. What it does mean is that the average Iraqi is not going to risk supporting the Americans, even if they don't agree with armed resistance. As long as there are few jobs and no clerical support for working with the Americans, the occupation will be slow and violent.

Americans have to stop seeing every Iraqi issue in the prism of Saddam and the war. We're constantly worried about creating a pro-American, Israeli-neutral state with our chosen leaders running the show. That's a waste of time, energy and ultimately American lives. It limits any international involvement. The Iraqis we like have no respect among the masses. The ones they respect, we fear. At some point, a tragic mistake is going to be made. A mere rumor that US troops had surrounded Sadr's headquarters sent 10,000 men into the street. Raids on SCIRI's headquarters and newspaper offices are pushing them out of the CPA.

Even on the street level, Iraqis often have highly negative encounters with US forces. Patrols walk by, weapons armed and pointed, words barely exchanged. Their guns and money are stolen on raids, never to be returned. Their relatives are arrested, held without seeing kin for weeks on end, and then given forms to fill out. The limited numbers of Iraqi police often have tense, hostile relations with their American supervisors.

As long as Americans and Iraqis have unneccesarily tense relations, things cannot get better. Even during a day of what should have been celebration, National Guardsmen shot and killed a six year old girl during the celebratory gunfire following the announcement of the death of the Hussein Brothers. After months in Iraq, US troops do not get that Iraqis celebrate with gunfire. Months.

4 Money

The Bush Admnistriation has played fast and loose with the amount of money occupying Iraq will cost. So much hope is placed on eliminating the Saddam family because it is hoped US forces can draw down. This is unlilkely for several reasons.

First, Saddam had nearly 200,000 police, Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard just to stay in power. Even then, he could barely hold on in 1991. He had to spend billions in bribes to keep various tribal chieftains loyal to him. The same Jubbur tribal area which is now at the heart of US troubles caused similar problems for Saddam. The Marsh Arabs never surrendered to Saddam. In short, Iraq has always been a country with various tribal uprisings whenver there was some upset with the government. It is expensive to keep these groups loyal to the government.

Much of the hope that eliminating Saddam will elminate guerrilla activity is based on wishful thinking. Saddam never ended guerrilla activity, he merely cut deals with some, killed others.

Second, the cost of rebuilding Iraq will be so steep that the US cannot shoulder it alone. Nor will US taxpayers, increasingly unhappy with the continuing flow of wounded and dead, nor the brutal service cuts they endured, be a continuing source of financial support for Iraq. Unless the burdens can be shared across our allies, a highly unlikely prospect, and the violence declines, a trick Saddam only managed with torture and murder, the costs of Iraq will climb and then lose support in the US Congress.

Iraq can and will be reconstructed. The question is how. If the US insists on controlling the process and self-sabotage by talking about year-long tours for troops, then our stay will be short, bloody and expensive. If we decide on quick elections and a mostly civilian/USAID/Peace Corps reconstruction effort, then things have every chance of working out.

But as long as the US the face of law and order in Iraq, it will be resisted.

Posted July 23, 2003 01:59 AM


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