I’m looking ahead to the June 30 “handover” of power in Iraq with increasing trepidation. As this NYT story indicates, the handover is shaping up to be a complete sham (more on this from Nathan Brown, guest commentator for Juan Cole). Anybody silly or corrupt enough to join the new “government” will be in the same position as the Iraq governments of the British Mandate/Treaty period, taking responsibility for policies dictated by a foreign occupying force, while having no effective power over anything that matters.
It’s worth recalling how we got to this point, since it gives an indication of likely future developments. When the June 30 date was announced, the US (most notably Bremer) wanted to install a puppet government through a set of tightly-controlled “caucuses”. The Iraqis (most notably Sistani) wanted early elections with ration books being used to draw up a provisional electoral roll. Both had an effective veto. Sistani could stop the caucuses going ahead with the threat of boycotts (and the background threat of the Shiite militias). Bremer could prevent elections simply by doing nothing to make them possible (Garner, the first US Administrator was sacked largely because he had wanted early elections).
Sistani’s plan is looking better and better every day, and there are clearly quite a few people in Washington who now wish it had been followed. Nevertheless, there are powerful forces in the US Administration (most obviously the Chalabi lobby) determined to hold off any real handover of power until they can be sure of controlling the resulting government.
Any attempt to hold on to control past the end of 2004 is, I think, doomed to disaster. Given that Bush is unlikely to reintroduce the draft before November, it’s clear that the number of Coalition troops in Iraq can’t be increased, and is in fact bound to decline in effective terms as more of the allies and the for-profit private armies pull out. But if it’s impossible to hold on into 2005, it’s probably also impossible to manage the proposed interregnum.
There are no easy ways of avoiding the slow motion train wreck going on in front of us. The best chance is for the UN to refuse to countenance the current US proposals and to pass no resolution unless it puts the interim Iraqi government in charge of its own country, scrapping the deplorable Article 59 of the interim constitution imposed by the US. If the US was willing to put a large army under ultimate Iraqi command, it might finally be in a position to deliver on the promises made when the country was invaded.
I can’t see the Bush Administration agreeing to this, and I don’t suppose the other UN members will insist on it, so we’ll probably get an outcome in which the UN effectively washes its hands of the entire business and leaves the Americans to sink or swim as best they can. Assuming this analysis is accurate, which will become apparent in the next ten weeks or so, I think it’s time for other members of the Coalition, including Australia and the UK, to cut and run.
fn1. While I’m on Iraq I’ll link to what is claimed to be an internal CPA memo predicting civil war. (hat tip to reader Robin Green). I’ve seen, but can’t currently locate, claims that the memo is bogus. Whether or not it really comes from the CPA, the generally pessimistic statement of the facts seems pretty accurate.