Will America confound its critics once again?


Lt. Gen. Eric A. Vas [Retd]

In March 2003, Iraq was a divided country with an oppressed Shia majority in the south, dominant Sunnis in the west and autonomous Kurds in the north, with a smattering of Christians, Turkmen, Assyrians and tribes everywhere.  Because of two wars and UN sanctions, the evident bankruptcy of fascist Baathism and Saddam's repressive rule, social fragmentation had taken place. Secularism had retreated into reaction. The layers of coercion consisted of the armed forces, and some 30,000 members of Saddam's own extended clan, the al-Bu Nasir; another 30,000 from affiliated loyalist clans; and estimated 80,000-200,000 secret police and as many as a million party officials, petty informers and profiteers.    Incomes had plunged to a tenth of what they were in 1980. Much of the educated elite had fled the country. Most families relied directly on government food rations to survive. It was a country with no trust in civil institutions, in which religious, ethnic and clan loyalties predominated.

This was the background against which America invaded Iraq in March 2003.  Many critics predicted that it would take months to overcome the Iraqi Republican Guards and that the war would be a costly disaster for America.  They were confounded when Coalition forces entered Baghdad in three weeks and crowds came into the street to welcome the invaders.  Confounded critics now say that the US may have won the military war with light casualties, but it will now face an even worse quagmire than Vietnam.

All accept that post-war plans will have to be done in phases.   The first phase will take up immediate humanitarian tasks. The UN has sent its representative to oversee the function of UN health and food aid teams, which are once again operating [this did not require Security Council sanction]. The US has earmarked retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner to head the reconstruction organisation.  He and his team have already reached Baghdad and are busy setting up a reconstruction frame work, employing the services of local Iraqi technicians and managers to run the essential services and serve as police. Iraq is lucky to have a rich pool of immigrants to draw on.  The US has flown Ahamad Chalabi, head of the exiled Iraqi National Congress, along with hundreds of his hand-picked followers to Iraq.  Chalabi, born in 1945 to a wealthy banking family, is a Shiite who has not been in the country since 1958, except for a period in mid-1990 when he sought unsuccessfully to organise a mass uprising from a base in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

The aim in Phase One is to re-establish law and order, disarm and demoblise the Iraqi armed forces, de-fang the intelligence services and Baathist Party, begin the reconstruction of essential services: water, electricity and hospitals. During this time the oil wells will be reopened. An important objective in this phase is to identify and select emerging local and immigrant leaders. It is expected that  Phase One will take about two months and will be entirely managed by Americans. 

Phase Two will be the establishment of a civil interim government.  This will most likely function under Chalabi.  This will include Lt. Gen. Garner's reconstruction organisation and employ other emerging Iraqi leaders  Thus, during the interim period, the country will be governed by a predominantly Iraqi administration.   The interim government will frame financial and fiscal laws, restore the banking system, issue new currency, frame civil and criminal laws and set up a judicial system, raise an Iraqi army and police force, lay down an education structure and syllabus.  A major task will be to frame a secular democratic constitution for Iraq and sell this to the people. Teams of professionals have already done most of the preparatory work for this Phase.  

 Phase Two is likely to extend for a period of two years and will be guided by Americans.  The US stand is unambiguous.  Having conceived, scripted and fought the war practically on its own, it will not grant anyone else, least of all those who opposed the war, the right to decide the contours of Iraq's future, whether in respect of government formation or in allotting contracts for reconstruction.

The running of Phases 1 & 2 will cost a lot of money.  Immediate humanitarian and food aid will cost $2.5 billion.  Rebuilding basic infrastructure will come to another $25 billion.  The annual cost of maintaining 100,000 peace-keeping troops will be $25 billion.  Throw in the costs for reconstruction of institutions, schools and hospitals, universities and museums, and the price tag grows to a round $100 billion.  This does not count the cost of the war, which is estimated to be $200 billion. Many hope that Iraqi oil will offset this cost.  The pre-war export of 2.5 barrels a day earned over $15 billion a year.  Experts say that raising this by 1 million barrels a day will need an investment of $7 billion.  This can be raised even further so that Iraq can not only pay off its existing debts of about $100 billion, but also pay for its own rapid development.  But foreign oil companies will only invest their money if Iraq remains stable.

However, Iraqi oil cannot be exported without UN sanction. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund also say that they will only step in if there is UN approval.  The US appears to have softened its stand on UN participation and President Bush has stated that "the UN will have a vital role" in the future of Iraq.  To begin with it is likely that the UN will have a senior appointee who will act as the UN's "eyes and ears.  During Phase One, we should see much debate, bargaining and compromise in the UN, and an eventual acceptance by the Security Council of the new Iraq.  We may then see the introduction of a UN peace-keeping forces to replace Coalition Forces.  

A democratic system requires consensus among the elite about rules of the game, a public who accepts the results and shares a concept of justice and respect for the rule of law. Many question whether the country is capable of becoming a secular democracy. Iraq is a patriarchal society, divided not just by tribe and religion, but also between clans and classes Iraq' polity fortunately has a positive side.  Saddam's leveling sword has made it unlikely that any single group can soon achieve dominance.  Fear of Iraq splitting into Kurds, Sunni and Shia states is exaggerated.  Although the Shias have a highly structured clergy, there is no single Khomeini-like figure to unite them.

The Kurds have the strongest case for independence.  Freedom has brought relative prosperity, a strengthened sense of identity and a determination backed by 80,000 fighters, to preserve its gains.  But the Kurds know that they need money and regional support to survive.  Turkey, Syria and Iran, all worried by their own Kurdish minorities surround them, would gleefully sabotage any separatist bid.

Thus it seems clear that the best political formula for Iraq is a decentralised secular pluralistic federation composed of strictly administrative regions [not tribes], governed by accepted Iraqi leaders who frame sensible laws and ensure that the oil spoils are shared fairly.  Undoubtedly the Americans have already framed a constitution on those lines and it is up to the emerging leaders to accept this and sell it to the public.

Millions of Arabs [and others in the world] are convinced that America occupies Iraq only for its oil wealth.  They find it difficult to see Americans as liberators and refuse to believe that they are sincere about transforming Iraq into a model free democratic state.  Can one blame such critics?  Ever since the end of World War 2, the US has supported dictators and monarchies provided they served its overall national interest.  America's attitude towards regimes in West Asia has been one of benign neglect provided their twin objectives: the survival of Israel and their oil interests were fulfilled.  Things will be no different after the occupation of Iraq. President Mubarak of Egypt predicts that this war will throw up "another hundred Osama bin Ladens".

However objective observes are of the opinion that the US has undergone a radical change of heart after 9/11.  American leaders have come to realise that the source of terrorism is not Islam but the absence of democratic governance in the Islamic states of West Asia.  President Bush has said, "The nation of Iraq with its proud heritage, abundant resources and skilled educated people is fully capable of moving towards democracy and living in freedom."  America knows that the stakes are very high. Along with events in Iraq, the Arab world is also watching events in Israel, and America's support for a free Palestine state.  America knows that victory in Iraq did not merely mean military success.  If free Iraq becomes a shining example to others in West Asia and the world, it will be a victory against international terrorism, will transform the political scene in the Islamic world, will raise America's prestige and further confound  American critics.   


The Bush Administration is confident that Phase Two will culminate in free and fair elections, the establishment of a representative Iraqi government and the withdrawal of all American advisers