The Iraq Conflict

GIRDING FOR A POST-WAR BATTLE

Installing a retired U.S. general to run the interim government would alienate the Arab world, writes ARTHUR KENT

ARTHUR KENT April 14 2003
The Iraq Conflict

GIRDING FOR A POST-WAR BATTLE

Installing a retired U.S. general to run the interim government would alienate the Arab world, writes ARTHUR KENT

ARTHUR KENT April 14 2003

GIRDING FOR A POST-WAR BATTLE

Installing a retired U.S. general to run the interim government would alienate the Arab world, writes ARTHUR KENT

ARTHUR KENT

The Iraq Conflict

IN THE COURSE of their assault on Iraq, U.S. and British commanders no doubt mulled over the old adage about winning the battle but losing the war. Their forebears proved this famously when they blasted away at each other at Bunker Hill in 1775. King George’s redcoats defeated the American colonists (an army of irregulars, history notes), but the British forces sustained heavy losses and looked vulnerable that June day, presaging their ultimate defeat in the Revolutionary War at Yorktown six years later.

Today in Iraq, the two former foes claim they’re united in keeping their eyes on the immediate prize—securing Iraq—yet they seem blind to the threat of long-term reverses, both political and military, in the region. Despite having misread the volatile sympathies and allegiances of a predominantly Arab society trapped by war, the Bush administration (to the increasing dismay of its British ally) still plans to impose a U.S. military administration on the conquered land and its people. This “Iraqi Interim Authority,” under the ultimate command of Gen. Tommy Franks, is to be led by a retired American lieutenant-general, Jay Garner, who is a lightning rod for anti-American sentiment among Muslims. Garner has visited Jerusalem under the sponsorship of right-wing groups who believe the U.S. can project its power into the region by way of the Israeli state and military. Three years ago, he lent his name to a statement by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs admonishing Palestinian leaders for supporting rather than discouraging an outbreak of violence in Gaza and the West Bank.

“In the context of the road map for peace,” one British cabinet source told Maclean’s last week, “the general represents a pretty substantial sleeping policeman [Britspeak for speed bump]. The Prime Minister is deter-

mined not to let this kind of obstacle get in the way after the war.” Which is why both Tony Blair and his foreign secretary, Jack Straw, have spoken loudly and often about the need to place the administration of postwar Iraq in the hands of Iraqis, initially under United Nations auspices, as soon as possible. Blair foresees a three-stage approach, with a brief interim military authority followed swiftly by a transitional Iraqi body that would draft a constitution, making way, finally, for an elected Iraqi government.

However soothing this may sound to Western ears, to many Arabs it smacks of arrogance and hegemony. Yet the Bush administration has turned a deaf ear, insisting that the U.S. alone will be the overseer of the first stage of the process—90 days, they claim—though the White House has allowed that a UN-appointed “coordinator” may be added at some point. There’s no question, however, about who’s to be the new boss of Baghdad: Garner. “The whole idea—people find it really hard to swallow,” says Mustapha Karkouti, an elected council member of Britain’s Royal Institute of International Affairs. “I don’t see how Garner can be accepted as a respected governor as far as the Arab people are concerned, particularly the Palestinians but also the Iraqis. People in the region won’t take this lying down. Certainly they will resist, they will defend, and this U.S. policy will end with tragedy throughout the Middle East.”

International affairs specialists warn that even as the coalition strengthens its military grasp on Iraq, Shia and Sunnis from neighbouring states—and around the world—are forging an unpredictable, and potentially powerful, new unity. Says Paul Rogers, a professor at the School of Peace Studies at Britain’s University of Bradford: “Essentially we’re beginning to see a pan-Arab

movement in support of the Iraqis—not in support of Saddam Hussein, but in the support of an Arab state—which is perceived to be under attack and soon to be subjected to foreign occupation. At root, the sanctions process and war have turned the Iraqi people against the Americans in particular. Yet they persist with Garner.”

The grim prospect of war causing more, not less, instability in the Gulf is not without precedent: this is, after all, Gulf War Two, a direct descendant of the 1991 conflict and its troubled aftermath. And it’s not as if Washington isn’t capable of making the same mistake twice: consider the underestimation by U.S. war planners of the Iraqis’ will to resist, or their assumption that invading soldiers would be viewed as “liberators.” Blair, say his critics, seems to be awakening to the dangers ahead. Rogers suggests Blair may not have initially understood Bush’s long-range objectives, or perhaps he was simply doing his best to preserve the

transatlantic relationship as an absolute key part of British foreign policy. “But it also comes down to Tony Blair’s almost messianic view of the world, which in some ways has very good points on issues like development and controlling climate change, but has severe weaknesses when he sees things in very simple terms of good and evil,” Rogers says. “One has to understand that the neo-conservatives are a very unusual breed. They have no real recognition that the majority of the world, and Arabs in particular, simply see things in a different way.”

And that’s true of establishment, not just militant, Arabs. Fadhil Chalabi, director of the Centre for Global Energy Studies in London, served as deputy head of OPEC for 11 years—after a long term as Saddam Hussein’s acting oil minister. He quit Saddam’s regime in 1991 and moved to Britain, and now says some elements of the American reconstruction plan for Iraq hold merit.

Blair has spoken loudly about the need to place Iraq in the hands of Iraqis—initially under United Nations auspices

“Before this matter came to the fore,” he told Maclean’s, “I was supporting the idea that part of the Iraqi oil industry should be privatized in order to bring in as much money and investment for the country and for the people as possible. Partial privatization could speed up expansion of the oil industry and reconstruction of the country, and I believe it will benefit the economy.”

But not under Garner’s supervision. “Iraqis are very sensitive when it comes to being ruled by foreigners,” says Chalabi. “Even those who are very much against Saddam would feel alienated under the command of

an American general. It is their [the United States and Britain’s] moral obligation to reconstruct the country, to help create a new society free of foreign domination and dictatorship. However, Iraqis hate to see the country occupied militarily, and I believe the Americans should understand this fact, and create conditions that don’t make the Americans look like rulers.”

Chalabi, a widely respected energy analyst, is a distant cousin of the controversial opposition leader, Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress. Ahmed Chalabi is not only resented by many of his countrymen for lobbying to become the first post-Saddam prime minister, but also because Donald Rumsfeld’s neo-conservative hawks at the Pentagon want a key role for him on Garner’s team. Even the U.S. State Department is resisting Chalabi’s nomination—Secretary of State Colin Powell, once again at odds with Rumsfeld, is eager to create an administration more accept-

able to the region and the wider world.

To that end, Powell blitzed the conference halls of Brussels late last week, logging some 23 separate meetings with Russian, European Union and NATO foreign ministers. Some European leaders acknowledge their own fractured and ineffectual political union contributed to pre-war failures in consensus-building at the UN. Almost all nations spoke of a desire to begin mending diplomatic fences. The one issue that might frustrate those efforts is the makeup of the post-war administration in Iraq. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder insists that the UN have a prominent role. “How do you say ‘Nein! ’ in Texan? ” quipped a British diplomat observing the Brussels talks. “Of course we, like the Germans and the French, will pound the table in the cause of international legitimacy, but it’s American tanks making tracks into Baghdad. I doubt we’ll make our presence felt for some time.” Little wonder that there is no prospect yet for a UN summit to choose an Iraqi interim council, as happened after the war in Afghanistan in 2001. Instead, the Bush administration intends to promote up to 100 of its own Iraqi candidates as advisers to Garner’s 23 American department heads. Rumsfeld is said to have demanded personal approval of each and every appointee; former CIA director James Woolsey, another hawk, has been considered as Iraq’s new minister of information. “What the Americans are after is not to create democracies,” claims Karkouti. “They want to set up docile governments, regimes that will say yes to them and will not argue. There are people running the U.S. administration who really believe they are part of the divine, God-given order—they are the only people who can see the truth, nobody else.” Washington points to the record-setting speed of its armoured columns, and the humbling of once-vaunted Republican Guard divisions along the invasion routes, as proof that its plan is sound. But it will be the postwar world that will be the most telling test of U.S. strategies, and not just around the bargaining tables in Baghdad, Brussels or New York. Defence analyst Rogers forsees a cycle of civil unrest in the Middle East, and an upsurge in terrorism. “You can imagine that the al-Qaeda-type paramilitaries must be overjoyed,” Rogers says. “They no longer need to be going to America, because the Americans have come to them.” fi* 1]