The United States has created enormous resentment in Iraq because of its forces' brutal and ham-handed conduct, its complicity in cultural destruction, and reliance on discredited clients like Ahmad Chalabi. Can it handle the consequences?
THE United States' wholly expected military victory in Iraq is turning sour. The short burst of relief and even joy witnessed on Day 21 of the war in parts of Iraq at the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime - some of it genuine, but much of it stage-managed, manufactured or exaggerated - has already given way to anger and resentment at the takeover of the country by the Anglo-American troops. Whether in Basra and Baghdad, or Mosul and Najaf, the "liberators" now face the wrath of the people who see this occupation as history repeating itself - 85 years after the British colonised Iraq.
Iraq's biggest demonstrations or strongest shows of popular sentiment in a long time were not witnessed in Saddam City, the predominantly Shia slum of northeastern Baghdad, on April 9 and 10, or in Firdos Square in the Capital's centre, where a bronze statue of Hussein was pulled down by an Iraqi crowd rapturously welcoming the Americans. (It now turns out that this was stage-managed; see www.informationclearinghouse.info for evidence). The biggest displays of popular feeling were seen on April 15 outside Tallil airbase near Nassiriyah, where 20,000 Iraqis protested against a US-sponsored meeting of self-styled Iraqi leaders; and in Baghdad on April 18, where tens of thousands marched denouncing both America and Saddam Hussein.
In less than a week after Iraq's "liberation" (that is, U.S. troops' entry into Baghdad), the predominant slogans heard in the streets are "Down, Down USA - Don't stay, Go away!", "No to Saddam, No to Bush", and "Americans, You are not Welcome". Those who witnessed the pillage of Iraq's priceless National Museum and National Library call the Americans "modern Mongols" contemptuously, after the 1258 sacking of the Arab world's greatest urban centre by marauding Central Asian hordes.
One reason for the tremendous popular resentment is the crippling shortage of electricity, water and other essentials caused by military operations, the often rude and obnoxious behaviour of the invading troops towards civilians, and the widespread looting (itself encouraged and facilitated by the U.S.). But an even deeper reason is frustration at the imperial arrogance demonstrated by Iraq's new rulers as they reorganise the country after their image and impose their proconsuls and lesser functionaries upon Iraq's people.
The "viceroy's" choice could not have been more unimaginative. Lt.-Gen. Jay Garner, who 12 years ago briefly oversaw efforts to create an autonomous region for the Kurds in the north, is no Iraq expert or an Arabist of any kind. He is better known for two other attributes: his post-retirement career path, which put him at the head of a major defence contractor with close links to the Pentagon, S.Y. Coleman; and his close connections with Palestine-baiting Zionist institutions in Israel.
Garner shares the first attribute with some of the most powerful people in the Defence Policy Board (DPB), a government-appointed group that advises the Pentagon. The DPB's members are selected by the Under-Secretary for Defence and approved by the Defence Secretary, currently Donald Rumsfeld.
According to the Centre for Public Integrity, a well-regarded public watchdog group, at least nine of the Board's 30 members are linked to corporations which have over the past two years alone won $76 billion in military contracts from the Pentagon. (The Board's chairman, Richard Perle, has just quit because of his shady links with the scandal-ridden firm, Global Crossing, and also with Saudi Arabia officials).
Garner has been involved with the right-wing Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) which lobbies to "educate the public" about the importance of Israel to American defence policy. He has travelled to Israel, with JINSA. More important, two and a half years ago, he, along with 40 retired U.S. military officials, signed a letter that strongly supported Israel's policy of ruthless repression of the second Palestinian Intifada and of continuing illegal occupation. The letter praised the Israeli government for exercising "remarkable restraint" and blamed the crisis on Palestinian leaders.
Appalling as this partisanship is, it may not be unconnected with Garner's first attribute or role. SY Coleman, the company he headed, helped Israel develop its "Arrow" missile-defence system (which the Indian government is, incidentally, keen to buy). Garner's image as a military contractor with pro-Zionist links is bound to stir up resentment against him among the Iraqis, for whom, as for the vast majority of the Arab peoples (although not states), the Palestinian question is of singular importance.
Garner's very first move upon reaching Iraq was to inaugurate the Tallil conference, attended by less than 80 people, comprising Iraqi exiles and a section of the Shia clergy and some tribal leaders, but boycotted by the largest group representing the Shias, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) led by Iran-based Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim. (SCIRI is by no means anti-American any more. There are reports that Ayatollah al-Hakim personally asked the Shias of Baghdad's Saddam City to come out in support of U.S. troops and celebrate Hussein's "defeat" in the streets after the U.S.' Abrams tanks moved into Baghdad).
The Anglo-American occupying forces are now also appointing local governors and chiefs of their choice to "control" the law and order situation in the restive cities. But this is fuelling greater resentment. For instance, on April 15, the British forces announced, in the face of growing disorder in Basra, that a local sheikh has been chosen to head the city administration - since they could not function as the police.
In Mosul, the Americans appointed a governor whose glaringly pro-U.S. inaugural speech triggered a huge civilian protest. (The U.S. response was to fire upon the protestors, killing 12). In Baghdad, the U.S.'s choice was Mohammed Mohsen Zubaidi, a member of the Iraqi National Congress, led by none other than American stooge Ahmad Chalabi. Zubaidi claimed he had been "elected" vizier, or chief, of a Baghdad executive council by people representing clerics, academics, Muslim Shias, Sunnis, Christians, writers and journalists. Most Iraqis interviewed by Reuters said they knew nothing about any elections. But Zubaidi was clear: "We are in dire need of the U.S. government in order to restore peace and order in Baghdad and help the people of Iraq... .We think the U.S. respects the right of people to rule themselves."
Zubaidi sounds like a Chalabi cat's paw. Chalabi, perhaps embarrassed (or is that too strong a word?) by his overt dependence on the U.S., stepped back from involvement in the Tallil conference, which in any case was not exactly a success, having only passed a vague 13-point resolution probably drafted by the U.S. central command. He told Le Monde that he would not seek political office in any future government: "I want to participate in the rebuilding of civil society, which has been completely destroyed and corrupted." But when asked if he intended to play a political role, he replied: "Absolutely not. I am not a candidate for any post."
However, Chalabi remains the U.S.' most important Iraqi client. Not only has he had extensive contacts with the Pentagon; he remains Rumsfeld's favourite. His so-called "Free Iraqi Forces", a rag-tag band of 500 to 700 exiles, were trained by the Americans in Hungary under a U.S. army programme called "Task Force Warrior", and then airlifted to Iraq.
Chalabi neatly fits the stereotype of "our own 800-pound gorilla" that the Americans themselves prefer and project in many countries: he is the "good guy" so long as he is our gorilla, working against the "bad guys", as we define them. Chalabi is an Armani-suit, Gucci-shoes, Rolex-watch businessman, who was born into a rich banking family in Iraq. He left Iraq, at age 13, in 1958. (He only returned briefly in the 1990s, to stage a failed "insurrection".)
Chalabi has been sentenced to 22 years' imprisonment for a bank fraud by a Jordanian court. An Arthur Andersen executive confirms the substance of the financial charges against Chalabi. Chalabi is considered an unsavoury element, much more compromised and untrustworthy than, say Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan - with his links to the oil company, Unocal - not just by SCIRI, but by the bulk of the Iraqi Opposition, including the Iraqi National Accord, the Iraqi National Coalition, the Iraqi National Front, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
The U.S. is not only keen on promoting Chalabi; it is equally anxious to recruit into the "new" administration old, established officials of the Saddam government. Thus, Robert Fisk, undoubtedly the best-informed Western journalist reporting from West Asia, says in The Independent (April 17) that some of the worst tyrants and torturers of the old regime are probably being employed by the Garner administration, with no questions asked.
Among the key Americans making these decisions is Zalmay Khalilzad, President George W. Bush's special envoy to the region, and a shadowy figure who played a major role in imposing an American puppet regime on the country of his own birth (Afghanistan). Khalilzad, a member of the Project for the New American Century, which theorises the New Empire, was present at the Tallil conference too, reassuring the Iraqis that the U.S. had "no intention of running Iraq. We want you to establish your own democratic system based on Iraqi traditions and values... I urge you to take this opportunity to co-operate with each other."
Khalilzad, last October, was clear that after Saddam Hussein's ouster, the Iraqi armed forces would be "downsized" and Baath party officials removed. But "much of the bureaucracy would carry on". Thus, the emerging administration will include many individuals whom the Iraqi people cannot regard as guardians of their interests.
However, the "interim authority" Washington is setting up will have an ambitious set of goals, including total control of all major aspects of Iraq's post-war affairs. Its agenda includes, according to The Guardian, "overseeing the distribution of humanitarian aid, to the dismay of NGOs (non-governmental organisations); the processing of PoWs (prisoners of war) and the conduct of future war crimes trials; a U.S.-directed hunt for Iraq's fabled weapons of mass destruction; the awarding of reconstruction contracts; the administration of Iraq's ministries and vetting of former officials; the rehabilitation (prior to possible privatisation) of Iraq's oil and gas industry; the remodelling of Iraq's remaining army; the parameters of Iraq's future foreign policy, including possible recognition of Israel; and, last but not least, the creation of a `consultative group' of agreeable Iraqis which will, eventually, translate into an interim authority still under U.S. auspices".
The interim authority will go into such minute details as rewriting of school textbooks prepared under Baathist rule. (The U.S. Agency for International Development is expected to award education-related contracts worth $65 million. The agenda includes promotion of English as a second language at school.)
The U.S. will inflict an even more intrusive, aggressive administration upon Iraq than it did on Afghanistan. The results in the latter are there for all to see: a puppet regime whose writ does not run much beyond Kabul, coexisting with warlords in the provinces. Hamid Karzai has to be protected by 50 U.S. personnel. The U.S. is not even putting any money into Afghanistan. Bush says he "forgot" to include the $300 million aid promised this fiscal year into his budget. When Karzai recently went with the begging bowl to the U.S., he was promised $50 million. Of this, $35 million is for building a hotel in Kabul for aid officials!
The U.S. has always been a poor peacekeeper and "nation-builder". Barring Japan, and to an extent Germany, after the Second World War, it has a uniformly bad record: from China to Italy and Greece in the 1940s; from Iran to Indonesia and Brazil in the 1950s; from Cuba and Vietnam to Peru in the 1960s; from Chile and Angola to Afghanistan in the 1970s; and from Grenada, Somalia and Rwanda to the former Yugoslavia in the 1980s and 1990s. As Stephen Peter Rosen, a conservative strategic studies professor, says: "The American military is the best high-intensity fighting force in the world. But we are not as good at understanding or managing foreign cultures, or at building democracies."
According to Rosen, "The Marine Corps published a manual on the conduct of small wars in 1940 that noted that the Corps had been involved in 180 interventions in 37 different countries between 1840-1940 to establish internal peace. The lesson, unfortunately, is that our most talented fighting men are not the kind of people who are good at peace enforcement."
We have just seen the strongest dimension of U.S. power at work in Iraq - the military dimension. How the weakest dimension, involving negotiation, persuasion, and consensus, plays itself out will soon become evident in Iraq. Two things are clear: the beginning has been poor; and the going will not be easy.