Iraq Tipping Point
Iraq Tipping Point
There is no turning back from the Abu Ghraib photo scandal. No matter how hard President Bush and his senior aides try, they won't be able to restore the last bit of the fig leaf that once covered their illegal invasion and occupation of
If the prisoner scandal was a moral tipping point -- the final step in transforming Iraq's foreign liberators into its oppressors -- it came in-between two military tipping points in the ongoing struggle between armed insurgents and the US-led occupation forces; in-between, that is, the battle for Falluja in the Sunni triangle and the battle for Najaf in the Shia heartland. In combination, these put George W. Bush in a listening mode during his meeting with French President Jacques Chirac in early June and led to a series of redrafts of the Anglo-American resolution on
The Bush administration's changed stance manifested itself in
Only late in the day indeed did the Bush White House finally abandon its disastrous "year zero" strategy -- the disbanding of the Iraqi military, the security agencies, and the civil service coupled with a blanket de-Baathification policy (advocated by Chalabi and his neo-con cohorts) -- adopting instead the Alawi strategy of co-opting most of the elements of Saddam's regime minus its top leadership. And it did so not with a bang but with a whimper in Falluja where the only alternative was to reduce that city of 300,000 to rubble and create a political earthquake in the
Evidently, the Abu Ghraib moment marked a tipping point for public opinion on
President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, trumpeting the passage of Security Council Resolution 1546 as a landmark achievement, have failed to address the crucial question: Will this resolution change the popular perception of
It follows, then, that any Iraqi entity the
On one hand, President Bush and his National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice assured us that their input into the creation of the new body was "zero." On the other hand, UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi admitted publicly that his own promised authority in shaping the caretaker government had been "sharply limited" by American officials. After calling occupation administrator Paul Bremer "the dictator" of
On getting his Bush administration-backed assignment to name the interim government, Brahimi declared that he would choose those Iraqis who were honest, efficient, and nursed no political ambitions. Without much ado, however, the Americans overruled him because they feared that these technocrats might prove too independent.
What Washington wanted was Iraqis who -- while willing to dabble in occasional criticism of the administration -- were in the final analysis beholden to it; and that is what Washington got at the cost of missing as yet another opportunity to persuade ordinary Iraqis that a dramatic change was in the offing on June 30. Of the top five positions, three went to erstwhile members of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) -- Iyad Alawi, Ghazi Yawar and Ibrahim Jaafari -- and the remaining ones to the leaders of the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), allies of
More specifically, the Bush administration placed two long-established cohorts in the key positions of executive prime minister (Iyad Alawi) and deputy Prime Minister in charge of national security (Braham Salih, former Prime Minster of the PUK-ruled
During the bargaining at the Security Council over the new interim administration's rights to its own security forces and its relationship with the US-led Multi-National Forces (MNF), the French insisted on an Iraqi veto over any large scale MNF offensives. By failing to support the French demand, Alawi proved his pro-American bona fides to top
A British-trained civil engineer, Salih has been Kurdistan's regional representative to
Before taking up his new post of defense minister, Hazim Salaan Khuzaei, a Shia, was the American-appointed mayor of Diwaniya. In the wake of the failed 1991 Shia uprising in which he participated, he fled to
As was also true of the IGC, two-thirds of the 36-member interim government carry foreign passports, chiefly British and American. Of the remaining 12 who have only Iraqi passports, half are women. Remarkably, most of the former exiles of the IGC didn't even bring their families back to
Like the IGC, the interim government lacks a minister for religious affairs, which makes
From the public relations point of view, of course, it helps both the Bush administration and the interim government to resort to shadow-boxing over such symbolic issues as the custody of Saddam Hussein and who should in the future occupy the Republican Presidential Palace. Alawi's demand that Saddam must be handed over to the Iraqi government before June 30, and Yawar's insistence that the Coalition Provisional Authority should vacate the Republican Presidential Palace are meant to impress a skeptical Iraqi public that the new entity is different from its predecessor. The likelihood is, though, that it will be an example not of "old wine in a new bottle" but of "old wine in a well-used bottle."
Dilip Hiro's latest book is Secrets and Lies: Operation "Iraqi Freedom" and After. (Nation Books). He is based in
A version of this piece will appear in print in issue #728 of Middle East International.
Copyright C2004 Dilip Hiro