Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Let the Iraqi people decide

As the Bush administration thrashes about defending it actions and inactions as the situation in Iraq worsens, the Maliki government feels it is being undermined by U.S. officials and rumors have floated about a possible replacement of the Maliki government with a regime of a more authoritarian type. This, of course, would run counter to the objective of helping establish a democratic government in this country.

Johann Hari has some thoughts on these recent developments:
… There are ever-louder whispers from Washington that the Bush administration is considering junking the (very) limited democracy Iraq now has, sacking the Prime Minister, and installing a junta of “national unity” generals to “impose order”. These rumours are so advanced that last week, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki felt obliged to publicly ask George Bush for reassurances they were not true. Indeed, the imposition of stringent targets on Maliki from Washington this week – as though Iraq were an NHS trust in Bangor – rests on this potential coup d’etat as a threat: if Maliki fails to meet the targets, what will happen?

This Iraq-needs-a-dictator approach is based on a false analysis of
what has gone wrong since the war, one that is strangely shared by some parts of
the anti-war movement. As Bush’s team moots installing a strong-man, Piers
Morgan, whose Daily Mirror was one of the most prominent voices against the war, recently said if he was still in charge of the paper he would be leading one
last Iraq campaign: “Bring back Saddam.” Their argument is that Iraq is an
irredeemably tribal society, always on the brink of fracturing into a
Shia-vs-Sunni-vs-Kurd conflagration. This ethnic chaos needs an iron fist to
keep it in order – an Arab Tito. Even a sliver of democracy is the problem.
Dictatorship is the solution.

But to suggest that the emergence of a violent tribalism in Iraq was
the inevitable after-effect of ending Saddamism is to actually let the Bush
administration off the hook. It took more than two years – and a huge amount of
violence directed by unrepresentative militias, against Shia and Sunni mosques,
marketplaces and shrines – for Iraqis to turn on each other in significant
numbers. Even now, a large majority of all three Iraqi communities – according
to every poll – still believe in a unified Iraq under an elected government.

Tribalism has taken this toxic form because of the total economic
collapse of Iraq overseen by Bush. His administration immediately and
undemocratically imposed on Iraq the opposite of a Marshall Plan, a deflationary
Republican wet dream: privatize everything immediately, impose a flat tax, slash
the public sector to pieces. Everywhere this has been tried, from Argentina to
Russia, it has led to total economic collapse. Create a situation where
unemployment hits 70 percent in any country and people will look to tribes they
barely think about in better times. If only a third of Brits had jobs and bombs
were going off everywhere, we would fracture into warring white, Asian and black tribes too. Would we start saying Britain was an irredeemably tribal society
that could only be ruled by a dictator?

So the emerging Bushite narrative about Iraq – hey folks, we nobly
tried democracy but it turns out they’re just too damn tribal and they need a
tough guy after all – is wrong and repellent. For people like Piers Morgan who
have been vindicated on the war to fall for this now is an Act Three tragedy.

Indeed, the Bush administration has been deliberately scuppering
attempts to end tribal warfare. Earlier this year, Prime Minister Maliki
carefully crafted a 28-point national reconciliation package modelled on
post-Apartheid South Africa. Militias would be pardoned, their colleagues
released from jail, and their arms handed in. All the major groups expressed
interest – but the Bush administration smothered it at birth by refusing to
agree to the basic demand of most militias, a timetable for withdrawal of
foreign troops.

This withdrawal is now inevitable, and soon. The only question is
whether our governments leave very quickly of their own choice, or are chased
out of the Green Zone like the last helicopters from Saigon. The shape of one
possible Bush withdrawal strategy is now becoming clear, and it’s not hard to
smell the suplhorous influence of Henry Kissinger – who has been outed by Bob
Woodward as Bush’s new mentor – on it. Install a friendly CIA-backed dictator
who will iron out Iraq’s creases (no need to ask about the messy tactics, boys)
and ensure the oil keeps flowing.

This access to oil supplies was always the primary goal of the Bush
team. As long ago as 1991 – back when the only thing George W. Bush tortured was the English language – Dick Cheney said about Iraq, “We’re there because the
fact of the matter is that part of the world controls the world supply of oil.”
Wolfowitzian talk of spreading democracy was a sugar-coating, easily burned

In opposition to this strategy-of-sorts, many people propose to leave
immediately. I have some sympathy for this, but it has a big flaw: the departure
would be seen as a victory for the mainly sectarian and fundamentalist
resistance groups. It would increase their power and prestige in Iraq’s post-war

I think there is a better way to achieve a very swift exit. It is for
the occupying forces to hold a referendum, within one month, asking the Iraqi
people – do you want the foreign troops to remain for another year, or should
they leave now? The answer Iraqis will give is pretty obvious: in the latest
poll, 82 percent opted for immediate withdrawal. But if the Iraqi people have a
chance to give the purple finger to the occupiers as bravely as they did to the
suicide-murderers last year, then the Anglo-American exit will become a victory
for them and for the ballot box, not for jihadism. It will maximise their
(horribly slim) chances of slowly patching together a more decent country from
the militia-splinters into which it has fragmented.

Arguing for this quick democratic exit against the Kissingerian
proposals of George Bush might be the last thing we can do for the Iraqi people,
along with finally holding our leaders accountable for the crimes – the chemical
weapons, the torture – they have committed in the course of this

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