Hm. According to ArabicNews.com, American proconsul L. Paul Bremer told journalists in Mosul that he had no intention of delaying the formation of an interim government, as I commented on Saturday, and said he “does not know the source of these stories.”
Hey, Paul, here’s a hint: It’s British Diplomat John Sawers, who’s _quoted_ in the story from the New York Times and The Associated Press.
“It’s quite clear that you cannot transfer all powers onto some interim body, because it will not have the strength or the resources to carry those responsibilities out,” The Associated Press quoted Mr. Sawers as saying. “There was agreement that we should aim to have a national conference as soon as we reasonably could do so.”
So what are we to conclude from this? That Jayson Blair is reporting from Iraq? Or that Bremer is engaging in a little “cheat and retreat” of his own? Is he dashing the hopes of Iraqi opposition figures on the one hand and then denying it to journalists a couple of days later? Is the Bush Administration taking yet another play from Ronald Reagan, who once famously quipped, “My right hand didn’t know what my far right hand is doing”?
Vivion Vinson, over at the excellent Iraq Democracy Watch, mentions a Reuters report that Bremer has started drawing a distinction between an interim “authority” and an interim “government,” leading to deep suspicion on the part of the until-now strongly pro-American Iraqi National Congress.
“An interim authority is a very vague concept. I am not sure that an Iraqi representative would go to OPEC meetings (of oil exporting countries) under this setup,” Entifadh Qanbar, a senior official in the Iraqi National Congress, told Reuters.
“We will continue to tell him and push very hard. Anything of this sort will not work. The U.S. will come back and accept an interim government,” Qanbar said.
Qanbar said the United States had repeatedly agreed to form a sovereign government rather than a mere “authority”.
What’s going on here? Is this another example of the “pull it out of your ass at the last minute” planning that has marked the Bush administration’s “administration” of post-Saddam Iraq so far? I have no doubt that Bremer and Sawers told the Iraqi opposition group at a meeting that plans for an interim government would be put off. And I still maintain this is the least bad decision to make. With all the groups in Iraq jockeying for power — Ahmad Khaffaji, a politburo member of the Shi’ite Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), accused Washington of breaking its promises to set up a sovereign Iraqi government and warned darkly of civil disobedience if the Americans don’t “fulfill their promises” — turning Iraq over to a government before it’s ready would be a recipe for civil war. This, obviously, would be the worst of all situations and the United States would be in a quagmire practically alone.
This puts the U.S. in a bit of a pickle. If it hands over the reigns of government too quickly, it’s civil war (probably.) If it holds on to them, it’s a colonial power in a region with long and painful memories of colonialism. Running Iraq like an oily fiefdom is not likely to engender cooperation from reluctant allies. And make no mistake: They _are_ reluctant. The sum total of troops contributed by allies other than Britain and Australia can be measured in the hundreds — their numbers look like bowling scores at U.N. league night.
Further complicating matters are, of course, the Kurds, particularly Jalal
Barzani’s Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. The PUK is already negotiating deals with Turkish (!) oil companies Pet Oil and General Energy to develop the oil fields around Taqtaq near Kirkuk. (Iraq War Reader has a good take on this.) As Micah Sifry muses:
All this may foreshadow a collision between the United States and the Kurds of northern Iraq over who will control the country’s richest oil fields. Hopefully, some of the journalists who have distinguished themselves on the Kurdish beat, like Charles Glass, Patrick Cockburn and Tim Judah (whose article on the Kurds graces our book), will shed more light on this soon.
With the delay of an interim government, a possible dispute with the Kurds — and Turkey? — in the future, the United States’ work in Iraq is cut out for it.
*CORRECTION May 29, 2003*
I misidentified Jalal Talabani in the preceding paragraph. It has since been corrected.