Author Topic: Will The Real Iraqi Government Please Stand Up  (Read 58 times)

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Will The Real Iraqi Government Please Stand Up
« on: April 11, 2003, 11:47:56 AM »
Whose Iraq?
Iraq's opposition groups are becoming increasingly sceptical about the US's true intentions in Iraq. Omayma Abdel-Latif gauges reactions

 
Fears are growing among members of Iraq's opposition in exile over the extent to which the US government will intervene in post-war Iraq to the exclusion of both the Iraqi opposition and the UN. Iraqi opposition sources, speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly this week, expressed deep concerns over the US's approach in dealing with post-war Iraq. They said that most Iraqis have no idea of what the process of change itself will be like. They stressed that the US administration has deliberately shrouded its plans in secrecy and kept the details vague. "All we knew was that there are a bunch of people sitting around a swimming pool in Kuwait and planning the future of Iraq," Ibrahim Al-Gaafari, spokesperson for the Al-Dawa'a movement, a Shi'ite opposition group, told the Weekly on Monday. "This is not acceptable in any shape or form. If the US administration, due to its military might and control of the country, seeks to impose a certain agenda, we will make sure it will not work out," said Al- Gaafari, whose movement has posed a major challenge to Saddam Hussein's regime and has claimed responsibility for an assassination attempt on the life of his elder son Uday.

Al-Gaafari's comments reflected a ground swell of suspicion among many sections of Iraq's opposition in exile as to the true motives of the US invasion of Iraq. Those concerns were further consolidated this week by leaks to the US press about details of US plans for a post-war order in Iraq. It became clear that any hopes for an arrangement where the various factions of the Iraqi opposition could play a key role in the initial process of the transfer of power appear to have been dashed. According to Ghassan Al-Attyia, a prominent Iraqi dissident based in London, the US was further alienating those sections of the Iraqi opposition which have a constituency inside Iraq while allying itself with those opposition figures who enjoy no following or grass- roots support. "There is a growing sense that even before Saddam Hussein falls, there will be a rush to divide the spoils of war. To give legitimacy to this looting of Iraqi resources, the US wants token Iraqi participation. The way US companies are fighting for contracts in Iraq and the way in which Iraq's opposition in exile conducts itself sums up the issue," a prominent Iraqi analyst told the Weekly. His argument is lent credence by statements from a US State Department official, who told the New York Times on Tuesday that they are trying to put an Iraq face on everything they are doing.

According to Iraqi sources, they are seized by deep distress and anger, not just at the way the US administration is handling the process of filling the power vacuum in Iraq, but also the question of who will be in charge of the occupation of Iraq and for how long. US newspapers this week disclosed that the Pentagon and the State Department were not seeing eye to eye on the personnel and plans. In its attempt to impose new realities on the ground, the Pentagon stepped up efforts to establish some kind of an authority in southern Iraq even before the end of the war. Retired General Jay Garner is said to have been dispatched to southern Iraq to install the military administration. Garner's mission in the words of the New York Times is, "to remake Iraq as a beacon of democracy and a country with a tilt toward Israel," a mission which confirms Arab concerns and doubts about the retired general's intimate relationship with Israel and the US's true intention in targetting Iraq. Garner publicly backed a statement in 2000 by the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a US-based Zionist Lobby group, which praised the Israeli army for showing what it called remarkable restraint when dealing with the Palestinian uprising. "A strong Israel is an asset that American military planners and political leaders can rely on," said the statement signed by Garner and other retired US military personnel. This led one Arab commentator to say that Garner's rule of Iraq, "is a victory for Sharon since the retired general is a member of the 'gang' which planned the war against Iraq in the first place."

While the US officials kept reiterating that, "Iraqis will rule Iraq," the most important question opposition figures posed was, which Iraqis? Militarily, some 700 "free" Iraqi forces, who have been receiving training at a US base in Hungary for the past three months, were deployed to southern Iraq. Some 200 Iraqis dubbed by US officials as "regional coordinators" will soon join Garner's administration. Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and a very controversial figure who does not enjoy any following inside Iraq but is supported by Pentagon hawks, was flown to the city of Nasseriya in Southern Iraq to seek a role in whatever arrangement takes place.

This move has led Al-Gaafari to accuse the US of deliberately attempting to marginalise the legitimate Iraqi opposition. "We sense that there are attempts to impose some kind of raw deal on the Iraqi people, who have been suffering under a dictatorship and now will be under military occupation. This is not acceptable, however temporary they claim it to be," said Al-Gaafari. He pointed out that any Iraqi-run government, even an interim one, which is selected by the Americans will always lack legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people. "The Iraqi people should be given the choice to select their own leaders and not have them imposed by the Americans and have Iraq run by those who have not set foot in the country for decades." The Al-Dawa'a Party has also been boycotting US-sponsored Iraqi opposition meetings. Al-Gaafari believes that the professed mission under which the US invaded Iraq, namely disarming Saddam Hussein, will soon expire and therefore the reason for the US's stay in Iraq will be unjustifiable. "Since no major finds of weapons of mass destruction have been unearthed so far and since Saddam's disarmament under the UN was not going to last more than six months anyway, I think the more they stay in Iraq, the more it will backfire on them."

But Adnan Bacha-Chi, a prominent Iraqi dissident and Iraq's former foreign minister brushed off suggestions that the Iraqi opposition was being belittled by the US administration simply because it -- the administration -- does not represent a source of legitimacy. "The Americans cannot marginalise us because we derive our power and legitimacy from the Iraqi people and not from the Americans," Bacha-Chi told the Weekly. The prominent Iraqi dissident and former foreign minister was a key organiser of a conference held in London earlier this week to discuss strategies for change in Iraq. He was assigned to select a six-member council of Iraqi opposition figures to begin talks with the US administration, and other international bodies, such as the UN and European Union. Bacha-Chi is also due to tour key Arab countries to rally support for his initiative of change. Bacha-Chi insists that the first phase of the transitional period, which will be run by US General Garner, should be made short. This administration, Bacha-Chi emphasised, should not dwell on the political side of the crisis, rather it should focus on humanitarian and security issues. "Democracy in Iraq cannot possibly take root and grow without protection under US occupation," he said. Bacha-Chi and others say they expect that a leadership will soon emerge from among the Iraqi people who should have a strong voice in the future of Iraq. Indeed, the Al- Hayat newspaper reported on Tuesday that Iyad Alawi, head of the Iraqi National Accord, has rallied the support of various Iraqi factions to hold a conference in southern Iraq which is due to elect a central committee to administer southern Iraq, currently under US and British occupation. The conference is due to be attended by representatives of the main opposition factions as well as the chiefs of Iraqi tribes, according to the newspaper.

The conference preparations featured highly in talks which Bacha-Chi held with British Foreign Office officials on Tuesday. "We emphasised the need to have a conference that will elect an Iraqi-run interim government which will pave the ground for an election under UN supervision," Bacha-Chi said. He is, however, talking about a best case scenario because the talk coming from the US administration this week tells a different story. US officials did not set a time frame for their exit from Iraq. This week there were conflicting statements about when the US will pull out of Iraq and end its occupation. Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the mastermind of the war on Iraq, said in a television interview on Sunday that it will take the US more than six months for a transfer of power to the Iraqis. Other hawkish figures say that the US should stay in Iraq for at least two years. Bacha-Chi, however, poured scorn on these suggestions saying that this was a "grave exaggeration". "There is no need for US troops to stay in Iraq for two years. Even six months is a long period," Bacha-Chi insisted. Both Al-Attyia and Al-Gaafari agree, saying that Iraqis will soon be faced with the question of who is to represent Iraq at international gatherings. "Who will represent Iraq at the Arab League or in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference during those two years? An American general?" Al- Gaafari noted sarcastically.