Ruling by proxy

Print edition : July 30, 2004

The hasty transfer of `power' to the interim administration and the subsequent developments, including increased attacks by the resistance forces, signal further violence in war-torn Iraq.

THE political drama in Baghdad, enacted under the direction of the Americans, had to undergo a last-minute change in the script. There was to have been an elaborate ceremony on June 30 to mark the symbolic handing over of "full sovereignty" to the Iraqis. President George W. Bush, who was in Istanbul to attend the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) summit, was expected to be present in the Iraqi capital. But without any prior indication, Paul Bremer, the American Pro-Consul, met Iyad Allawi, the interim Iraqi Prime Minister, two days before the scheduled date and went ahead with the transfer of authority. It was later explained that the date for handing over "sovereignty" was being brought "forward".

U.S. Pro-Consul Paul Bremer, centre, hands a document to Iraq's Chief Justice Midhat al-Mahmoudi, sealing the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq at a ceremony in Baghdad on June 28. Looking on (from left) are Barham Salih, the Deputy Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, the Prime Minister, David Richmond, Bremer's deputy, and Ghazi al-Yawar, the President.-ALI JASIM/AP

No credible reasons were given for this sudden transfer of power and the stealthy exit of Bremer within hours of the hastily arranged ceremony. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, America's closest ally, who was also in Istanbul, apparently had no inkling about Bremer's plans. He looked surprised when the Iraqi "Foreign Minister," with whom he was addressing a joint press conference, suddenly disclosed the details of the plan.

It is obvious that the American military establishment panicked after the attacks on their forces intensified dramatically towards the end of June, lending credibility to the rumours that the resistance was planning a major offensive to coincide with the handing over of "sovereignty". It was a pitiful exit for Bremer: he came to Iraq with the tag of a "counter-terrorism" expert but had to leave the country virtually unannounced, as practically the entire country had risen against the American occupation and the puppet regime. Until recently, Bremer and his advisers described the Iraqi resistance forces as "dead enders" and "remnants" of the previous regime. The new CIA-trained Prime Minster of Iraq, however, is taking the resistance more seriously. Immediately on assuming office, he threatened to impose "martial law" and hinted at the postponement of the promised elections, which, according to the United Nations Security Council Resolution, would have to be held within seven months of the interim government's assumption of power. John Negroponte, the new American Ambassador who replaced Bremer, will preside over the biggest American embassy in the world with a staff strength of more than 3,000. The 1,60,000 foreign soldiers, mainly American, will remain in Iraq to protect the new government from the people's wrath.

The fighting in Iraq again escalated in the second week of July, when the resistance struck in the heart of Baghdad. Resistance forces engaged American troops in long-running daylight street battles, which had not occurred for quite some time. The fighting erupted on the day the interim government signed into effect a new security law giving itself more draconian powers, including the right to introduce martial law for limited periods. (The Iraqis have anyway been living under martial law for the last 15 months.) The new law gives the government the right to impose curfews, set up checkpoints, and search and detain suspects. Oil pipelines are being sabotaged on a regular basis by the resistance forces.

According to analysts, the increasing number of attacks reflects a new level of confidence among the resistance forces. The headquarters of Allawi's Iraq National Accord Party was among the targets chosen by the resistance fighters. Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shia leader, after initially saying that he would cooperate with the interim government, changed tack after his loyalists failed to get representation in the government. He has now once again called upon the Iraqi people to revolt.

Allawi, like his American backers, prefers to characterise the resistance as consisting of mainly foreign fighters and Saddam loyalists. At the same time, he is making an effort to lure back the Baathists and former soldiers of the Iraqi Army by offering them limited amnesty. He has been boasting to the media that his government provided the intelligence to the American forces on the activities of the resistance in Falluja, which is now being regularly targeted by American war planes and helicopters. According to reports, most of those being killed in the air attacks are innocent civilians, among them women and children.

Allawi is trying to project the image of a tough ruler cast in the "Saddam" mould, while at the same time downplaying his reputation as a collaborator. He has reintroduced the death penalty, which the American authorities had abolished with great fanfare. He is acting more like an elected leader than the head of a "caretaker government". However, it will be difficult for fair and free elections to be held as scheduled in Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz, the American Deputy Defence Secretary, who had once predicted a cakewalk for the American forces in Iraq, said in the last week of June that the resistance could only be defeated in "five years, more or less".

Policemen inspect the site of an attack by resistance forces targeting liquor shops in Baquba, 60 km northeast of Baghdad, on July 10.-ALI YUSSEF/AFP

THE international community is not impressed by the so-called "transfer of power" though some of the pro-Western Arab states would like to give the new Iraqi government the benefit of the doubt. The Jordanian monarch has even offered to send his troops to Iraq as peacekeepers. The new government refused the offer. Accepting protection from a neighbouring monarch whose family still had pretensions of presiding over the destiny of Iraq, would be the kiss of death for Allawi. The news that Yemen had also offered to send troops to Iraq was quickly denied, though the Yemeni government clarified that it would consider sending troops only after the American forces had left. Most Arab governments privately feel that the transfer of sovereignty is a ploy by Washington to retain control over Baghdad and Iraqi oil resources. The fact that American soldiers will remain outside the control of the interim government, with total immunity from punishment for any illegal acts they might commit, is proof enough for most people in the region that what the Iraqis now have is fake sovereignty.

Diaa Rashwan, an analyst at the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, is quoted as saying that the main reason for the violence in Iraq "is the presence of foreign occupation troops. Because they have a new government and the occupation is still there, I don't think they will stop the violence. The principal problem will continue". Some of the diplomats belonging to the pro-Western monarchies have expressed optimism about the changes that have taken place, saying that the Iraqi people, fed up with the violence, want peace and security. "The militancy will be defeated and Saddam will be hanged," is the prediction of one diplomat.

Very few Arab governments, however, are expected to give diplomatic recognition to the present Iraqi government. They are watching the way the political situation is evolving. Before Bremer left Iraq, he issued 97 legal orders, which are binding on the new government and will cover all the key aspects of Iraqi life, economy and politics.

More than $20 billion of oil revenues collected by the Bush administration from the proceeds of Iraqi oil sales have not gone into the rebuilding of the shattered infrastructure. Instead, it has flown into the coffers of the former Coalition Provisional Authority, according to the reputed international charity organisation Christian Aid. The Christian Aid Report states that the majority of Iraq's reconstruction projects has been awarded to American companies, which charge up to 10 times more than Iraqi firms.

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