by Haroon Siddiqui / Toronto Star –
It was because of our deep belief as Canadians in the values of multilateralism and the United Nations that we did not go to war in Iraq.
— Jean Chrétien, to a standing ovation during his farewell speech at the Liberal convention in Toronto.
CANADA November 16, 2003) — The Prime Minister can’t say it, but more than unilateralism, it was dishonesty that doomed George W. Bush’s war on Iraq and soured much of the world on America.
Incompetence — exacerbated by imperial arrogance and cultural ignorance — turned the occupation into a nightmare. Now, all those traits are in play in the American plan to ostensibly turn Iraq over to the Iraqis.
The decision to hasten self-rule has little to do with installing real democracy. That’s the patina the president needs to cover the panic suddenly gripping the White House.
The insurgency in Iraq is growing in intensity and expanding in geography. It will get much worse, according to a bleak assessment just offered by the Central Intelligence Agency.
More than the terrorism of Baathist “remnants” and “bitter-enders” — or even “the 200 or so foreign terrorists” that the administration has been harping about dismissively amid its happy talk of progress in Iraq — the CIA says a full-scale insurgency is underway, with a majority of Iraqis opposing the occupation.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking toward next year’s presidential election.
Bush Is Desperate for an ‘Exit Strategy’
Rather than lurching from crisis to crisis, as he has for six months, Bush needs an exit strategy, fast. We are seeing the outlines of one: Cut and run, albeit over an extended period.
It has both a military and a political component. The army is already striking hard at suspected pockets of resistance. Iraqi human cannon fodder will be rushed in to minimize American body bags now and reduce the number of American troops by next summer.
There will be a partial devolution of political power, in a bid to persuade Iraqis that they are ruled not by a foreign power but by their own leaders. Both stratagems constitute major reversals of policy.
Post-war, America couldn’t disband the Iraqi army fast enough. Now, chief US administrator Paul Bremer can’t reconstitute it quickly enough for the White House. He has already twice shortened the minimal training of police and military recruits.
Crunching it further can only confirm the long-simmering suspicion that what America wants is not a real Iraqi army (lest it pose a future threat to American interests in the region) but rather security guards, policemen, intelligence agents and advance foot soldiers.
A Tried and True Colonial Formula
This is a tried and true colonial formula — in fact, a dead-ringer for what the British did in Iraq when faced with an insurgency after their post-Ottoman takeover in 1917. Of the 2,000 soldiers who died crushing that Iraqi rebellion along the Euphrates, about 1,550 were recruits from British India.
On the political front, Bremer’s job had been to slow down self-rule, lest the dreaded majority Shiites take over. Now, it is to speed up the process — without losing control. This is only the latest twist in a game plan gone awry.
The Pentagon had flown in its favorite puppet, the discredited exile Ahmad Chalabi, behind the advancing American troops in hopes of installing him as the new ruler, much like the British did back in 1921 with Prince Faisal. But the Shiites and Kurds balked.
Time for Bremer’s ‘Plan B’
That triggered Plan B — a 15-member governing council, genuinely representative of Iraq’s religious, ethnic and tribal interests, but bereft of power.
When even these handpicked members started accusing Bremer of neither fixing the security situation nor making any democratic progress, skepticism among Iraqis skyrocketed. The Americans responded with accusations that the council members were “not doing their jobs,” as Congressman Richard Lugar said last week. The council does not know what its job is, replied Massoud Barzani, the seasoned Kurdish leader.
Mutual recrimination will no doubt recede under the new presidential directive for speeded-up self-rule. But not for long.
There is no coherent plan yet whether a constitutional assembly would be elected, as the Shiites want, or nominated. Whether a constitution would precede or follow a general election. Whether there would be a genuine election at all, as opposed to a manipulated process to install Chalabi or some other quisling.
And, most crucially, how much power the new government would have, including the freedom to reverse the economic policies of privatization and pillage already underway for the benefit of American corporations, and the democratic right to go against American geopolitical interests.
Notwithstanding Bush’s lectures on democracy, only the naïve would continue to believe that America wants anything other than a satellite state. The only change toward that overall goal is the gradual reduction of the American footprint in Iraq, with an increase in remote control from Washington.
Pity the poor Iraqis.
Haroon Siddiqui is the Toronto Star’s editorial page editor emeritus.
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