INVADING ARMIES led the way, followed closely by the spectral forces of political king-making, seeking to install the Bush administration’s favourite Iraqi sons at the forefront of the country’s first post-Saddam Hussein governing body. But the failure of American and British authorities to prepare for keeping order, say diplomats and aid specialists, has seriously compromised what all parties view as the ultimate goal in vanquishing the old regime: the creation of a stable, humane and sustainable society in Iraq.
Having swept the country with an unstoppable war machine, the coalition appears to have overlooked the need to field even the most basic force of military policing specialists. In Basra, for example, British forces displayed patience and tact in taking
the city, but they are, almost to a man, combat soldiers. They lack the experience and training required to cope with a volatile situation in which residents are preyed upon by looters and are desperate for clean water and food. Worse, the British marines who know Basra best are due to be sent home by the end of the month, with no clear indication of what kind of force will replace them.
The Americans, meanwhile, mainly have more fighting forces in the pipeline: the 4th Infantry Division and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment have begun rolling into Iraq, with the 1st Cavalry Division on the way from Texas. As yet, though, there are no plans to field civilian or military police units; the official view is that chaos and plundering are predictable in the wake of military
action, and things will eventually settle down. Others aren’t so sure. “There was a lot of talk about breaking the grip of the Iraqi regime,” one diplomatic observer in Kuwait told Maclean’s, “but the administration hasn’t really got a handle on what to do next. It’s a rudderless ship—the focus was all about removing Saddam Hussein, all about military thrust. The complete lack of a plan for civil control proves that very little thought was given to the law-and-order issues that would surely follow the war. And what’s especially galling, of course, is that American officials talk endlessly about providing a bright new future for Iraqis.” Relief groups share these sentiments. Ships full of food aid languish in Kuwait’s harbours, waiting for secure conditions to allow
delivery to stricken Iraqi communities. This past week, aid organizations became increasingly impatient with U.S. and British authorities, who’ve shown their proficiency for pouring war resources across the border but have so far failed to follow up with meaningful shipments of humanitarian supplies. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees appealed to “the occupying forces” to “restore and maintain law and order” in Iraq. Attempting to counter that, American officials on Thursday showed journalists in Qatar several video clips, recorded by U.S. military camera teams, of soldiers delivering water and medical aid. But the projects were on a small scale, and within hours of the briefing, the UN’s spokesman for humanitarian affairs, David Wimhurst, responded on BBC World television with a verbal barrage. The UNHCR, he said, had raised the issue of security with American officers in Kuwait, and “we’ll want to know what they’re going to do to address this mayhem in the streets.”
Meantime, agencies as diverse as the In-
ternational Committee of the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières complain that it’s impossible to deliver relief in communities without power, water and security for their workers. In at least one confrontation in Kuwait City, the friction between aid specialists and U.S. military authorities erupted into a bitter shouting match, with the head of one non-governmental organization accusing U.S. forces of being too keen to restrict the movement of aid workers between towns and cities, and too lax in enforcing public order. Asked if American and British officials are sensitive to these charges, a member of the foreign diplomatic corps smiled knowingly. “Certainly there’s a strong suspicion that the border [between Kuwait and Iraq] is being tightly controlled,” the source said, “because they don’t want a lot of independent journalists roaming around, reporting on security problems in the south.” The day after Baghdad fell, the U.S. military announced that assessments would soon be made of the most urgent needs of Iraqis. But while the Pentagon played catch-
up on that front, its efforts to designate a new governing authority for Iraq appeared, if anything, to have jumped the gun on popular opinion both inside the country and among Iraqis abroad. The U.S. military airlifted Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the antiSaddam Iraqi National Congress, along with hundreds of his U.S.-trained militia, into southern Iraq, even while combat still raged around the capital.
Chalabi and spokesmen for the Bush administration insisted that this apparent prepositioning did not constitute any marked U.S. preference for the formerly exiled opposition leader. But those denials rang hollow, not least because of the increasingly public infighting within Washington itself over Chalabi’s suitability to govern. The State Department views Chalabi as damaged goods: he’d been in exile for 45 years prior to last week, and he’s been dogged by accusations of financial impropriety and unbridled ambition. Yet Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants Chalabi to feature prominendy in the Iraq interim authority now
being assembled under the supervision of Jay Garner, a retired U.S. general.
The Chalabi issue is one on which the U.S. and Britain disagree, though not to the same extent as in the debate over exactly when and how the United Nations should be brought into the process of forming the new Iraqi government. That could change, however, if the hawks in the Bush administration go too far in promoting their man. “If we could secure greater UN involvement in the near future,” says a source in Britain’s foreign office, “the Chalabi question might balance itself out, because other voices would be heard and presumably compromise would follow. But if the UN’s role continues to be deferred, pushing too hard with Chalabi will set the warning bells ringing. The perception will be that anointing him will be to the disadvantage of other Iraqi figures who deserve a role in the interim authority.”
Arab leaders, even moderates like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, denounce the idea of U.S. and British stewardship over the interim Iraqi governing body. In fact, most Arab states will likely refuse to recognize an Iraqi government that doesn’t truly reflect consensus among all Iraqis. Marwan Muasher, Jordan’s foreign minister, cautioned: “Jordan cannot, naturally, recognize an occupying power. The Iraqi people should rule themselves.” Newspapers, like Cairo’s mainstream AlAhram, were more blunt: “The war will not be the final word. Even if the attacking forces win, they will lose politically.” Some of that skepticism may be eased this week when various southern Iraqi opposition leaders gather for the first of several U.S.sponsored meetings to discuss the composition of a new government.
The squabbling contrasts sharply with the way an interim government was devised for Afghanistan after the U.S.-led rout of the Taliban. In that case, Washington’s championing of Hamid Karzai met with widespread approval among both Afghans and the world at large, largely because the architecture of the government he now heads was designed under UN auspices. The Afghan war resonated with grim irony this past week. Only hours before American armour rumbled into central Baghdad, 11 Afghan civilians— seven women and four men—lost their lives when U.S. warplanes, hunting Taliban gunmen, dropped a bomb off-target.
At the Pentagon, there was an apology for the tragic blunder, but there was no
mention of how widespread this kind of violence remains in Afghanistan: a week earlier, one of Karzai’s closest friends was assassinated near Kandahar, and late last month the Taliban murdered a captured aid worker. “No one wants to rain on the parade,” snipes one former U.S. intelligence specialist. “Baghdad’s the victory of the moment, so the administration doesn’t want old business from Afghanistan getting in the way, even though the signs are that terrorism will be making a big comeback, some of it from Afghan soil. But like the man says: nothing succeeds like success, and nothing helps cover up mistakes like a flag-waving victory over a bad guy like Saddam.” Aware of the dangers of excessive triumphalism, both Bush and Britain’s Tony
Blair took pains to stifle hyperbole over their armies’ conquest of Iraq, however badly both men need the victory to shore up their political futures at home. But they and their advisers realize the results of the Iraq war will be even trickier to manage than those in Afghanistan. Iraq has a higher profile in a much more volatile—and widely reportedpart of the world. The violent aftershocks of the campaign promise not only to be on a larger scale, but more closely scrutinized, too, as evidenced by the enormous media attention paid to last week’s suicide attack on U.S. troops in Baghdad and the assassination, in An Nasiriyah, of the Shia leader, Abdul Majid al-Khoei, who had returned from exile to help rebuild his country.
For the Bush administration and the British government, a long hot summer lies ahead. It’ll be lonely and expensive, too, because until they allow the UN an appropriate role in Iraq, neither the World Bank nor the International Monetary Fund can help fund reconstruction. Still, for Bush and Blair, dealing with that challenge is a holiday compared to the mission confronting their soldiers. To the grunts and the squaddies goes the task of trying to bottle up the rampaging genies of chaos and destruction. They can be forgiven for wondering if their political masters will heed the chorus of advice from around the world: it’s time to start rubbing the lamps of peace and international co-operation, and rubbing them hard. 1?!
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