'Liberation' is a disaster in Iraq - Guardian May 6, 2003

Ralph Johansen michele at maui.net
Tue May 6 12:00:51 MDT 2003

Operation Support Garner

The Pentagon's one-size-fits-all 'liberation' is a disaster in Iraq

Jonathan Steele in Baghdad
Tuesday May 6, 2003
The Guardian

American efforts to foist new rulers on the people of Iraq are becoming
increasingly grotesque. In some cities US troops have sparked demonstrations
by imposing officials from the old Saddam Hussein regime. In others they
have evicted new anti-Saddam administrators who have local backing.

They have mishandled religious leaders as well as politicians. In the Shia
suburbs of Baghdad, they arrested a powerful cleric, Mohammed Fartousi
al-Sadr, who had criticised the US presence. In Falluja, an overwhelmingly
Sunni town, they detained two popular imams. All three men were released
within days, but local people saw the detentions as a warning that Iraqis
should submit to the US will.

The Pentagon's General Jay Garner has taken an equally biased line in his
plans for Iraq's government. He held a conference of 300 Iraqis in Baghdad
last week and excluded almost every group which has an organised following.

In a Freudian slip at a recent press conference, Donald Rumsfeld smugly
explained democracy as a competition in which rival politicians try to
"garner support". His message in Iraq looks like the opposite - Operation
Support Garner. Otherwise, you are cut out.

Washington's failure to hold broad-based consultations at central and local
levels is provoking resistance, sometimes armed. In response, US troops have
used excessive force, further raising tensions. Ten people died in Mosul
when soldiers fired at crowds of protesters on successive days in mid-April.
In Falluja the death toll from American shootings over two days last week
was at least 16.

The massacre in Falluja was symptomatic. The town was quiet for two weeks
after Iraqi troops and local Ba'ath party leaders fled. The imams halted the
looting and got much of the stolen property returned. A new mayor arranged
for schools to re-open and persuaded police to return to work. Then the
Americans arrived, arrested imams, put up roadblocks and occupied a school -
all without prior discussion with local leaders.

They seemed to be working from a one-size-fits-all Pentagon textbook. First
"liberate", then move in and provide policing whether people want it or not.
In Baghdad there were indeed security problems after Saddam's forces
vanished, and many residents asked why US forces did so little to halt the
looting of key buildings. Having failed initially there, the US
over-compensated elsewhere. It came down too hard in Falluja and other
cities where people did not want a US hand.

The contrast with Afghanistan is sharp. For months Afghans pleaded for the
US to deploy international peacekeepers beyond Kabul to cities where
warlords held sway or were fighting for power. The US refused, either for
fear of taking casualties or because of lack of interest in a poor country
once its anti-western regime was toppled.

In Iraq, where there are no warlords and people feel they have the expertise
to run the country themselves, the US insists on moving in and staying.

It has excluded Iraq's best-known forces from consultations on forming a
central government. The Islamic Da'wa party, which was founded in 1957 and
suffered repression under Saddam in the early 1980s, was not invited. Nor
was the Iraqi Communist party, which also lost thousands of its activists in
the old regime's prisons. Both opposed the US attack. The communists are
weaker than they once were, as a result of decades of propaganda that they
reject Islam. But they are part of the Iraqi spectrum which needs to be

Washington's biggest omission is its refusal to make overtures to Iraq's
clergy. The Shia Muslims in particular are enjoying a strong revival and
cannot be pushed aside. There are family and other rivalries between the
main groups. The al-Hakim family, which founded the Supreme Council for the
Islamic Revolution in Iraq after escaping to Iran 20 years ago, now faces
criticism for going into exile. It has a volatile policy towards the US,
sometimes meeting officials, sometimes denouncing them. The al-Sadr family,
which stayed in the sacred city of Najaf, is gaining ground. Both groups
must be brought into discussions on the future.

It is not too late for the UN to play a role. There is no need for foreign
troops. Iraqis have shown a high degree of post-war unity and can provide
their own security. The much-predicted clashes of Sunnis v Shi'ites, or
Kurds v Arabs have not happened.

But the UN should come in, with a short-term mandate, to convene a genuinely
representative conference of Iraqis which would choose an interim government
and an assembly to draft a constitution. Only the UN can give legitimacy and
impartiality to this process. Instead of supporting Washington as Mike
O'Brien, the Foreign Office minister, did when he joined Gen Garner in
co-chairing last week's highly selective meeting of Iraqi politicians,
Britain should work with the security council to give the UN the same kind
of government-brokering role as it had in post-war Afghanistan.

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